The Supreme Court handed a win to the defenders of the medication abortion drug mifepristone by pausing lower court rulings that would have disrupted access to the drug as a result – from a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion doctors seeking to wipe away the US Food and Drug Administration's two-decade-old approval of mifepristone.
That means FDA's current regulatory scheme around the drug remains in place, ensuring that access to medication abortion — in the states where it is legal — is maintained at least for the next couple weeks, and likely longer.
What comes next in the case?
There is much still to play out in the litigation and Friday's Supreme Court order is unlikely to be the justices' final word on the FDA's approach to regulating the drug.
The case now travels back to the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court, which has set an expedited briefing schedule to give a fuller review of Kacsmaryk's ruling. A three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit will hold a hearing on May 17 and issue another decision sometime after. (There is no deadline for the Fifth Circuit to rule.)
The majority of judges on the Fifth Circuit are conservative, but it is unknown who the three judges will be. Notably, the three judges who will hear that step of the appeal will likely be different from those that issued the appellate order last week.
The Supreme Court's Friday order maintains the status quo around the drug's regulations until that Fifth Circuit process plays out and until the justices have another chance to weigh in on how it handled the case.
What do we know about how the justices are thinking about the dispute?
The Supreme Court did not show its cards in the order it issued Friday night.
While Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito made their dissents public, it is not otherwise clear how the justices voted or what the exact vote count was. The support of five justices is required for the court to grant a stay.
Only Alito wrote additionally to explain his dissent and stressed he was not expressing any views on the merits of whether the FDA broke the law in how it approached mifepristone.
Instead, he aired grievances about how the Supreme Court's conservative majority has been criticized for handling the emergency disputes — on its so-called shadow docket — in the past. He also cast doubt on the claims by the government and the manufacturer that the Fifth Circuit order would have caused mass disruption to access to the drug.
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