The US Supreme Court on Tuesday made obtaining an abortion drug more complicated; it reinstated a stipulation that women who needed the drug should visit the hospital or clinic to acquire it. This prevents women from receiving the drug via mail or delivered as a safety measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the first ruling on abortion since Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October 2020. Conservative Justice Barrett has had a track record of being pro-abortion. As of on midnight Monday, nearly 130,000 Americans were admitted to the hospital due to the virus and the country so far has reported 376,188 deaths due to the pandemic.
A request submitted by the Trump administration to lift in-person waits for the drugs was granted by the justices, three liberal judges, however, said that they would have denied the request as litigation over the dispute continues in lower courts.
The pill in question is mifepristone, one of the combination drugs used for medical abortion; the FDA in 2011 had said that the pill cannot be delivered via mail or prescribed over teleconsultation.
Theodore Chuang, a district judge in Maryland ruled that the restriction places an obstacle in the way of a woman seeking a medical abortion and is likely to violate her constitutional rights. According to Chuang's injunction, the government moved effectively to waive in-person requirements for dispensing other drugs including opioids.
The ruling was a result of the courts' deference to government decisions related to the pandemic and not about the right to abortion in general, SC Chief Justice John Roberts said.
In May 2020, when American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of medical experts led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists challenging restrictions that prevented women from accessing the abortion pill via mail, the courts ruled that the pill could be prescribed via teleconsultation as the pandemic subjects them to unnecessary risks. Several activists hoped that the ruling meant abortions would mean a permanent step towards making abortions more accessible.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures,” she wrote. She also said that the FDA imposing restrictions on the pill being obtained via mail imposes an “unjustifiable, irrational, and undue burden on women seeking an abortion during the current pandemic”