Pa. Gov. Shapiro: U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion pill is a ‘relief,’ but a ‘long road ahead’

‘As long as I serve the people of Pennsylvania, I will always protect your freedom to choose,’ Shapiro said

By: , and - April 21, 2023 7:21 pm

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks during a press conference in Allegheny County on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Screenshot)

(*This story was updated at 8:14 p.m. on Friday, April 21, 2023 to include additional comment)

WASHINGTON — The abortion pill will remain available throughout the United States while a lawsuit over its approval and use works through the appeals process, the U.S. Supreme Court said Friday.

The court issued a stay that ensures access to mifepristone nationwide, reversing lower court rulings about when and how the abortion medication should be available in a court case filed by anti-abortion organizations.

The decision stems from a ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, in early April, essentially overturned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone in 2000. Kacsmaryk is a nominee of former President Donald Trump.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans then placed a partial hold on the district court ruling, following a request from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The ruling by that three-judge panel would have kept mifepristone on the market, but required use and administration of mifepristone to revert to the FDA’s pre-2016 instructions.

Mifepristone, which blocks a hormone called progesterone that is needed for a pregnancy to continue, is one of two drugs used in a medication abortion. Medical abortions make up more than half of abortions in the U.S., according to research by the Guttmacher Institute.

Friday’s ruling by the high court means the abortion pill will remain on the market for now without the limitations placed on it by the appeals court.

“The April 7, 2023 order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, case No. 2:22–cv–223, is stayed pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” read the opinion, issued just before 7 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

The only noted dissents were from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  Alito wrote that he would not have granted the stay for the lower court decision, arguing that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals placed the suit on a “fast track.”

“(T)here is reason to believe that they would get the relief they now seek — from either the Court of Appeals or this Court — in the near future if their arguments on the merits are persuasive,” Alito wrote.

Pennsylvania reaction

In a statement issued shortly after the high court’s ruling was released, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro stressed that “abortion is legal in Pennsylvania — and that includes abortion using mifepristone.

“The Supreme Court’s decision tonight is a relief, but we know we have a long road ahead. As long as I serve the people of Pennsylvania, I will always protect your freedom to choose,” Shapiro continued. “If you are an abortion provider in Pennsylvania, know that your work has never been more important. My administration has your back. If you are a patient in a state that’s banned the care you need, our doors are open — and we will protect you and your provider.

“We will continue taking every action possible in Pennsylvania to defend your fundamental freedoms — and that includes making sure you know the care available to you:,” Shapiro said.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza called the high court’s ruling “good news.” But the head of the reproductive health organization’s political wing was quick to add that “attacks on access to abortion will never stop as long as anti abortion extremists are elected and appointed to positions of power.

“Our rights will be attacked in legislation, in regulation, and in ruling. We have to fight back, and that’s what PPPA will continue to do. We should not have to live in a world where we wait for any court to tell us what we can do with our bodies,” Espinoza said.

Biden reacts

In a statement, President Joe Biden said the stay granted by the Supreme Court prevented a lower court from undermining the “FDA’s medical judgment and put women’s health at risk.”

“I continue to stand by FDA’s evidence-based approval of mifepristone, and my Administration will continue to defend FDA’s independent, expert authority to review, approve, and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs,” he said.

The federal government, the manufacturers of the brand name and generic versions of the drug, and reproductive rights organizations had said that the 5th Circuit ruling was unworkable.

That 5th Circuit partial stay, which will no longer go into effect, would have meant that mifepristone would no longer have been approved for up to 10 weeks gestation, but seven weeks.

Patients would have to attend three in-person doctor visits instead of one, all adverse events would have to be reported to the FDA and dosage and administration of the medication would have reverted to pre-2016 instructions.

It would have prevented doctors from prescribing mifepristone via telehealth or it being sent through the mail.

The generic version of mifepristone would no longer have been approved.

Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa contributed to this story. 

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Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.