WASHINGTON – United States Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Thursday the Justice Department will ask the Supreme Court to intervene to stop restrictions set by a federal judge on the abortion pill mifepristone as President Joe Biden’s administration moves to defend access to the drug.
The administration will seek emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the US Food and Drug Administration’s “scientific judgment and protect Americans’ access to safe and effective reproductive care,” Mr Garland said in a statement.
Mifepristone, approved by the FDA in 2000, is used in combination with another drug called misoprostol to perform medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all US abortions.
The FDA is the US agency that signs off on the safety of food products, drugs and medical devices.
The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals late on Wednesday put on hold part of last Friday’s order by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, that would have removed the drug from the market by suspending the FDA approval while he hears a lawsuit by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban it.
The 5th Circuit, however, declined to block portions of Mr Kacsmaryk’s order, reinstating restrictions on the pill’s distribution that had been lifted since 2016.
In addition to a requirement of three in-person doctor visits to prescribe and dispense the drug, those restrictions include limiting its use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 10.
Mr Kacsmaryk’s order was set to take effect at 12am local time on Saturday, according to the Justice Department.
Mr Garland is seeking to have the Supreme Court block Mr Kacsmaryk’s order in its entirety.
“We are going to continue to fight in the courts,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters travelling with Mr Biden in Ireland.
“We believe that the law is on our side, and we will prevail.”
Mr Kacsmaryk’s ruling conflicts with a different federal judge’s decision last Friday ordering the FDA to maintain access to mifepristone with no new restrictions in 17 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia, which had sued the Biden administration in an effort to loosen restrictions around the drug.
In response to a request for clarification from the administration, US District Judge Thomas Rice in Spokane, Washington affirmed on Thursday that the FDA is forbidden from enforcing any new restrictions in those states, regardless of Mr Kacsmaryk’s order.