What's going on with the mifepristone abortion pill ban?
On April 21 the Supreme Court granted emergency requests to put Texas judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling on hold, preserving access to mifepristone for the time being. On May 17, this case will go to a three judge panel on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. We will learn more next month about whether mifepristone’s FDA approval will remain or be suspended.
If you've read the news or scrolled through social media in the past few weeks, you've likely seen talk about the abortion pill ban. With all of the ongoing changes to reproductive health laws this past year, understanding what is actually happening can be confusing. We're here to talk through what an abortion pill ban really means, and if medication abortions would be possible without mifepristone.
Nearly two weeks ago, on April 7, a federal judge in Texas effectively banned mifepristone, a drug that has been on the market for over twenty years in the US. Mifepristone is commonly used in conjunction with misoprostol for safe medical abortions. Later that day, a Washington state judge released a separate decision that blocked the FDA from taking action to remove mifepristone from the market.
Last week, the Supreme Court issued an administrative stay on the Texas court ruling. This means that for now the decision is on hold and mifepristone will stay on the market until tomorrow, April 21, while the justices consider the issue.
In the past year, the right to a safe and legal abortion has been taken away from many people with uteruses in America. On May 2, 2022 the Dobbs decision was leaked, revealing the Supreme Court’s plan to reverse Roe v Wade and take away the right to an abortion, a right Americans have had for nearly fifty years, leaving it up to individual states to decide. This went into effect in June of last year, with abortion bans of varying degrees popping up across red states. Just last week, Florida imposed a six week abortion ban. The idea that our grandmothers had more reproductive rights in 1973 than we do in 2023 is a heavy feeling.
Can medical abortion exist without mifepristone?
Many of us have been asking, is medical abortion possible if mifepristone is banned?
In short, yes it is. The World Health Organization recommends two routes for medication abortion. The first is mifepristone followed by misoprostol, and the second is misoprostol alone. In other countries where mifepristone is not available, misoprostol is used by itself. However, misoprostol alone has a lower success rate. In an Ibis Reproductive Health Study, 93-99% of participants who took misoprostol alone reported complete abortions without the need for surgical intervention.
However, mifepristone is widely used as a two-part process of safe medical abortions across the globe. The FDA stated that the drug’s approval was supported by a safety analysis based on dozens of studies demonstrating the pill’s safety. There is no strong evidence that mifepristone is an unsafe medication. Mifepristone is also used as part of miscarriage management, so the consequences of banning it could be farther reaching than just impacting medication abortions in the US.
So what does all of this mean? Unfortunately, we don't have all of the answers now, but we will learn more about the future of the abortion pill in the US in the coming days. In the mean time, there are things we can do to keep safe and legal medication abortion in the US.
What can you do?
As we continue to learn more about the future of the abortion pill in the US, there are steps we can take to ensure Americans have access to safe, legal abortion.
- Donate to local abortion funds
- Donate to independent abortion clinics
- Tell congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act
- Call your representatives and urge them to protect access to abortion
- Donate a free dose of the morning-after pill to someone who needs it
Resources if you need an abortion: