The Confusing Fate of the Abortion Pill

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Health

The Host

The abortion pill mifepristone is now ground zero in the abortion debate. Late Wednesday night, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the drug should remain on the market but under restrictions on distribution that were in effect before 2016, which ban prescribing by mail or by telemedicine. The restrictions would make it even more difficult for patients in states where abortion is illegal or widely unavailable.

The decision comes in response to a ruling last week out of Texas, where a federal judge, as was widely expected, found that the FDA should not have approved the drug more than 22 years ago and ordered it, effectively, unapproved.

Complicating matters further still, in a separate case filed by 18 attorneys general in states where abortion is largely legal, last week a federal district judge in Washington state ordered the FDA not to reinstate any of the old restrictions.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Victoria Knight of Axios, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

A late-night decision by the appeals court preserves access to mifepristone while the legal battle continues. But it also resurrects outdated limitations on the drug, meaning mifepristone can be used only up to seven weeks into a pregnancy, among other restrictions.

While it is expected that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the drug’s fate, some providers and state officials are rushing to stockpile it. Cutting off access to the abortion pill puts extra pressure on clinics in states where abortion remains legal, which are also serving women from so-called prohibition states and could see an influx of patients as mifepristone becomes difficult — or impossible — to get.

Republicans largely have remained quiet about the ruling overturning mifepristone’s FDA approval. While many in the party support banning the drug, they likely recognize the political risks of broadcasting that stance. Meanwhile, the Biden administration moved to strengthen privacy protections for patients and providers related t …

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