Supreme Court Ends Pandemic Permission To Prescribe Abortion Pills Remotely
Trump admin gets its way on abortion pills. U.S. women seeking first-trimester, non-surgical abortions must once again undergo an unnecessary—and, in pandemic times, risky—visit to the doctor, clinic, or hospital. The Supreme Court has sided with the Trump administration in a fight over whether abortion drugs may be prescribed remotely and shipped via mail.
Like so many arbitrary rules around health care, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirement that abortion pills must be dispensed in person by a physician was challenged when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and others argued that the expanded telemedicine options being allowed in other arenas should apply to the prescribing of abortion pills, too. And, last July, a federal court agreed, with U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang writing that “in-person requirements” during a pandemic could be a “substantial obstacle” to patients and therefore represent an unconstitutional infringement on their access to abortion. For the duration of the pandemic, the requirement was suspended, Chuang ruled.
But the Trump administration challenged the court’s decision, prompting the Supreme Court to rule in early October that Chuang must “promptly consider a motion by the Government to dissolve, modify, or stay the injunction,” since “relevant circumstances” may have changed.
The most relevant circumstance—is the coronavirus pandemic still raging?—has not changed it at all. The virus may have been (or looked like it was) in a lull in the early fall, when Supreme Court justices first weighed in. But that certainly hasn’t been the case in recent months. Currently, “coronavirus infections remain at record highs in many U.S. states,” points out Reuters. “Nearly 130,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of midnight on Monday and the country had reported 22.5 million infections and 376,188 deaths.”
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday to grant the Trump administration’s request and stay the lower court’s injunction on enforcing the in-person rule for abortion pills, pending the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit’s decision on the matter.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “the question before us is not whether the requirements for dispensing mifepristone impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion as a general matter. The question is instead whether the District Court properly ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift those established requirements because of the court’s own evaluation of the impact of the COVID–19 pandemic. In light of those considerations, I do not see a sufficient basis here for the District Court to compel the FDA to alter the regimen for medical abortion.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented.
“We are disappointed and dismayed by the Supreme Court decision upholding th
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