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Abortion battle heats up nationwide

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Casey Harper

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court's ruling restricting an abortion pill until Wednesday night. The hold will give the Supreme Court time to review the controversial legal battle over mifespristone, the drug in question, and is the latest chapter in an ongoing battle on this issue since the high court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. 

The Friday ruling came after the Biden administration requested the high court preserve access to the abortion pill, seen by many as a way for Americans to skirt state laws limiting abortion.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor last week of more restrictions on mifespristone, an abortion-inducing pill, notably that it can no longer be distributed via mail.

That court found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ignored alarming data about the safety of the pill and removed safeguards, possibly for political reasons, in the last year of the Obama administration.

“Imagine that an agency compiles studies about how cars perform when they have passive restraint systems, like automatic seatbelts,” the court said. “For nearly a decade, the agency collects those studies and continues studying how cars perform with passive safety measures. Then one day the agency changes its mind and eliminates passive safety measures based only on existing data of how cars perform with passive safety measures. That was obviously arbitrary and capricious in [an earlier 1983 case] State Farm. And so too here.”

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The court also said that the FDA misrepresented data in a troubling way.

“Second, the 2016 Major REMS Changes eliminated the requirement that non-fatal adverse events must be reported to FDA. After eliminating that adverse-event reporting requirement, FDA turned around in 2021 and declared the absence of non-fatal adverse-event reports means mifepristone is ‘safe.’ This ostrich’s-head-in-the-sand approach is deeply troubling.”

The FDA took fire after the fifth circuit court’s ruling.

“The FDA put politics ahead of the health of women and girls when it failed to study how dangerous the chemical abortion drug regimen is and when it unlawfully removed every meaningful safeguard, even allowing for mail-order abortions,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Denise Harle said.

Democrats were quick to blast the ruling.

“This is a step toward a nationwide abortion ban,” Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that he “strongly disagrees” with the ruling, and the filing to the Supreme Court came in soon after.

“The course of this litigation has been troubling at every level,” that filling reads.

The litigation in question, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, began in November of last year when a coalition of pro-life groups filed a lawsuit in Texas against the FDA over the abortion pill.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the battlefield has majorly shifted on this issue.

Given new latitude by the Supreme Court, states have been passing laws either clamping down or opening up abortion access, depending on their political leanings.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Heartbeat Protection Act” that banned abortions after a heartbeat is detectable, at about 6 weeks of life. Women who have experienced rape, incest, or human trafficking have longer, up to 15 weeks, to have an abortion. The law allows exceptions for when the life of the mother is at risk as well.

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“Thank you [DeSantis] for having the courage to do the right thing,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life. “You are setting the standard for GOP and they should follow your lead.”

These debates likely mean whichever party controls the next majority, and the White House, will have the ability to codify federal restrictions, or protections, for abortion pills and abortion access generally during that Congress, meaning Roe v. Wade’s overturning did not end the abortion fight but increased it.

In July, President Joe Biden decried the decision and doubled down, pledging to use the full force of his administration to increase abortion access as much as possible in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“HHS will increase outreach and public education efforts regarding access to reproductive health care services – including abortion – to ensure that Americans have access to reliable and accurate information about their rights and access to care,” the White House said at the time.