The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that blocked the Food and Drug Administration from allowing women to purchase the abortion pill mifepristone without a doctor’s prescription.
The DOJ filed a petition on Monday, arguing that the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals violated the constitutional rights of women seeking medication-induced abortions, and that the appeals court failed to properly consider the FDA’s rationale for the restriction.
The drug mifepristone, also known as RU-486, was approved by the FDA in 2000 for use in medication abortions, which provide a nonsurgical way for women to end their pregnancies. At the time of approval, the FDA required that the drug be prescribed and dispensed by a certified health practitioner.
The restrictions are controversial, and critics say the limits are medically unnecessary. A group of medical and reproductive-rights organizations sued the FDA in 2019 to challenge the rule, arguing that it placed an unnecessary burden on women seeking abortion care.
U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang agreed with the plaintiffs, and in July, the 9th Circuit affirmed Chuang’s ruling. At the time, it was the first federal appeals court to strike down such restrictions.
The Justice Department argued that the appeals court’s decision is problematic because it required the FDA to set aside its judgment about the safety and efficacy of the drug and instead act on the subjective opinion of the plaintiffs.
The petition argues that the court failed to defer to the FDA’s “reasonable” view that a doctor should be involved in the process of prescribing the abortion pill. It also notes that the FDA already requires formal safety protocols for using the pill, including an obligatory consultation with a doctor.
The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take up the case. However, the case is seen as a crucial test of how far the justices are willing to go in protecting the rights of women seeking abortion care.