Federal appeals court hears case on abortion pill Mifepristone

A federal appeals court heard arguments Wednesday for and against full access to the abortion pill Mifepristone.

The hearing comes after a judge in Texas struck down the FDA's approval of Mifepristone earlier this year.

This case is of national interest.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving it up to the states to decide if they would allow abortions.

The abortion pill now accounts for a majority of abortions in the U.S.

Inside the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday, three conservative judges heard arguments on whether a widely used abortion drug, Mifepristone, should remain available. 

An attorney representing the federal defendants, including the Food and Drug Administration, argued first.

"The district court's order is an unprecedented and unjustified attack into the FDA's scientific expertise. This court should vacate the order because the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on any of their claims," Sarah Harrington said. 


Judge halts FDA approval of abortion pill mifepristone

A federal judge in Texas on Friday ordered a hold on the U.S. approval of the abortion medication mifepristone, throwing into question access to the nation’s most common method of abortion in a ruling that waved aside decades of scientific approval.

The case involves a regulatory issue of whether the FDA's approval of Mifepristone, and subsequent actions making it easier to obtain, must be rolled back. 

The appellate hearing follows an April ruling by a federal judge in Texas, who ordered a hold on federal approval of Mifepristone, a decision that overruled decades of FDA scientific approval. His ruling was stayed pending appeal. 

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a group of doctors objecting to the FDA's approval of Mifepristone.

"Confronted by a drug that otherwise couldn't be approved the FDA, marketed Mifepristone by labeling pregnancy an illness. Then the FDA stripped this drug of nearly every safeguard it once deemed necessary in order to sell the drug," Erin Hawley said.

David Coale is a constitutional law attorney who is following this case closely.

"On its face, it’s just about what the FDA did with respect to Mifepristone, both back originally, and on these more recent decisions," Coale said.

Coale noted that the three appellate judges were all appointed by Republican presidents.

Jennifer Walker Elrod was a George W. Bush nominee, and James Ho and Cory Wilson were both Donald Trump nominees.

"And they've just become more receptive to arguments that challenge administrative agencies than the courts would've been 10-15 years ago," Coale explained. "That change in people is producing a change in law at the very least."

The judges grilled attorneys on both sides.

It's a high stakes case. With the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year, the abortion pill is how the majority of abortions are performed in the U.S. today.

"What's at stake today is all of that ruling, from soup to nuts," Coale added.

The three judges won’t rule immediately.

Coale said they'll likely rule within a month or so.

Their decision, whatever it is, is also unlikely to have an immediate impact, pending an expected appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.