Supreme Court temporarily extends access to abortion pill until Friday

The Supreme Court building at sunset as two people walk by in the foreground.
The Supreme Court has indicated it would act by Friday night on whether to allow restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times )

The Supreme Court has temporarily extended access to an abortion pill until Friday while the justices consider whether to allow restrictions on mifepristone to take effect as a legal challenge to the medication’s federal approval continues.

In an order signed by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Wednesday, the court indicated it would act by Friday night.

The drug first won Food and Drug Adminstration approval in 2000, and conditions on its use have been loosened in recent years, including making it available by mail in states that allow access to it.


The Biden administration and New York-based Danco Laboratories, the maker of the drug, want the nation’s highest court to reject limits on mifepristone’s use that were recently imposed by lower courts, at least as long as the legal case makes it way through the courts. They say those who want the abortion medication and providers who dispense it will face chaos if new limits on it are allowed to take effect. Depending on what the justices decide, women could be required to take a higher dosage of the drug than the FDA says is necessary.

The mifepristone case could reveal much about the moral opposition to abortion among the three newest conservative Supreme Court justices.

April 17, 2023

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group representing antiabortion doctors and medical groups in a challenge to the drug, is defending the recent rulings and calling on the Supreme Court to let the restrictions take effect now.

The legal fight comes less than a year after conservative justices reversed Roe vs. Wade’s nationwide right to abortion, which led more than a dozen states to effectively ban abortion outright.

Even as the abortion landscape has changed dramatically in several states, abortion opponents have set their sights on medication abortions, which make up more than half of all abortions in the United States.

Harris urges demonstrators outside Los Angeles City Hall to fight for women’s rights in response to recent court rulings that have threatened access to abortion pills.

April 15, 2023

The abortion opponents filed suit in November in federal court in Amarillo, Texas. The legal challenge soon reached the Supreme Court after a federal judge issued a ruling on April 7 that would revoke FDA approval of mifepristone.

Less than a week later, a federal appeals court modified the ruling so that mifepristone would remain available while the case continues, but with limits. The appeals court said that the drug can’t be mailed or dispensed as a generic medication and that patients who seek it must have three in-person visits with a doctor, among other limits.


The generic version of mifepristone makes up two-thirds of the supply in the United States, its manufacturer, Las Vegas-based GenBioPro Inc., wrote in a court filing arguing against allowing the restrictions to be put into effect.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the LAPD’s abortion squad hunted down women getting the procedure and the people performing them.

March 31, 2023

The appeals court also said the drug should only be approved through seven weeks of pregnancy for now, even though the FDA since 2016 has endorsed its use through 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Complicating the situation, a federal judge in Washington state has ordered the FDA to preserve access to mifepristone under the current rules in 17 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia that filed a separate lawsuit.

The Biden administration has said the rulings conflict and create an untenable situation for the FDA.

In an order issued last Friday by Alito, the court put the restrictions on hold through Wednesday to give the justices time to consider the emergency appeal.

If the justices aren’t inclined to block the ruling from taking effect for now, the Biden administration and Danco have a fallback strategy: asking the court to take up the challenge to mifepristone, hear arguments and decide the case by early summer.


The court only rarely takes such a step before at least one appeals court has thoroughly examined the legal issues involved.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans already has ordered an accelerated schedule to hear arguments in the case on May 17.

Mifepristone has been available for use in medication abortions in the United States since the FDA granted approval in 2000. Since then, more than 5 million women have used it, along with another drug, misoprostol, to induce abortions.