US appeals court preserves limited approval of abortion pill

Attendees wave placards during a rally to protest the one-year anniversary of Colorado's abortion law, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, April 4, 2023, outside the State Capitol in downtown Denver. (PHOTO / AP)

The abortion pill mifepristone will remain available in the United States while anti-abortion groups pursue a legal challenge seeking to ban it, but with significant restrictions including a requirement for in-person physician visits to obtain the drug, a federal appeals court ruled late on Wednesday.

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The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold part of last Friday's order by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, that had suspended the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the drug while the groups' lawsuit is pending.

However, the appeals court declined to block portions of Kacsmaryk's order, effectively reinstating restrictions on the pill's distribution that had been lifted since 2016.

The FDA and lawyers for the groups suing to block the drug could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kacsmaryk's ruling apparently conflicts with a different federal judge's decision, also issued last Friday, ordering the FDA to maintain access to mifepristone with no new restrictions in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The Biden administration has asked the judge in that case to clarify his order in light of Kacsmaryk's.

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The lawsuit before Kacsmaryk was filed against the FDA in November by four anti-abortion groups led by the recently formed Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and four anti-abortion doctors. They contend the agency used an improper process when it approved mifepristone in 2000 and did not adequately consider the drug's safety when used by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.