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Trump administration asks Supreme Court to reinstate abortion pill restrictions judge has suspended due to coronavirus

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Three RU-486 Mifeprex abortion pills are held in a hand December 1, 2000 in Granite City, Illinois. The Hope Center for Women is the first area abortion clinic to distribute the new pills that terminates a pregnancy. The RU-486 pill was approved in September and can be taken by women up to the seventh week of pregnancy. The drug blocks the hormone that sustains the embryo and then unhooks it from the uterine wall. (Photo by Bill Grenblatt/Liaison)

Bill Grenblatt | Liaison | Hulton Archive |Getty Images

The Trump administration on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate restrictions on an abortion medication as it appeals a federal judge’s ruling that temporarily suspended those restrictions nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration’s request, if granted, would again bar women from getting the drug, known as mifepristone and RU486, unless they visit a hospital, clinic or medical office, and also acknowledge in writing that they have been advised of the drug’s risks.

The Justice Department, in its application to the Supreme Court, argued that “any burdens” of forcing women to comply with those restrictions “with a one-time clinic visit” are outweighed by the risks of them suffering serious side effects of the pill.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2000 had imposed the restrictions on the drug, which when used in conjunction with another medication, misoprostol, causes a woman’s pregnancy to end.

The FDA says the restrictions are necessary to mitigate what it characterizes as serious health risks associated with mifepristone, such as excessive bleeding.

But in May, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with other organizations, sued the FDA and the Health and Human Services Department, seeking to overturn the rule.

In response to that suit, Maryland federal district court Judge Theodore Chuang on July 13 barred the FDA from enforcing the rule during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the restrictions were an undue burden and “substantial obstacle” on women’s access to abortion services. Chuang cited a 1992 Supreme Court decision in an abortion case for his ruling.

“By causing certain patients to decide between forgoing or substantially delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, the In-Person Requirements present a serious burden to many abortion patients,” Chuang wrote in his decision.

People participate in an abortion rights rally outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in the June Medical Services v. Russo case on March 4, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Sarah Silbiger | Getty Images

Attorneys from the Justice Department later asked Chuang to suspend his order pending their appeal of his ruling, but he refused to do so on July 30.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is considering the Justice Department’s appeal of Chuang’s ruling, on Aug. 13 likewise refused to suspend Chuang’s order pending the outcome of the appeal.

That denial led to the Justice Department’s application to the Supreme Court on Wednesday asking for the high court to reinstate the rule as the department appeals Chuang’s order.

The department, in that application, said that “by suspending enforcement of the safety requirements on a nationwide basis, the district court has irreparably harmed both the government and the public more generally.”

“Even if the FDA ultimately prevails on the merits [in the lawsuit], the risks to patients, and any harms that materialize, cannot  be undone,” the department said.

“Those costs outweigh any burdens associated with a one-time clinic visit to receive a drug that is merely one means of obtaining an abortion.”

President Donald Trump, despite having supported abortion rights in the past, currently opposes abortion. Since he became president, his administration has pursued policies to limit abortions, and has vowed to appoint Supreme Court judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling by the high court that said women had a right to get abortions without excessive government restrictions.

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