Court Says Abortion Pill Can Remain Available but Imposes Temporary Restrictions

A federal appeals court ruled late Wednesday that the abortion pill mifepristone could remain available, but the judges blocked the drug from being sent to patients through the mail and rolled back other steps the government had taken to ease access in recent years.

The three-judge panel said its ruling would hold until the full case is heard on appeal.

In its order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone in 2000 could stand because too much time had passed for the plaintiffs, a consortium of groups and doctors opposed to abortion, to challenge that decision.

But the court said that it was not too late for the plaintiffs to challenge a set of steps the F.D.A. took beginning in 2016 that lifted restrictions and made it easier for more patients to have access to the pill.

Those steps included not requiring that the pill be prescribed only by doctors, approving the pill for use up to 10 weeks into pregnancy instead of seven weeks and allowing the pill to be mailed to patients instead of requiring it to be picked up from a health care provider in person.

All of those restrictions were temporarily reinstated. The Justice Department is likely to appeal the order to the Supreme Court.

Last week’s ruling by Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, was a preliminary injunction saying that the F.D.A. had wrongly approved mifepristone 23 years ago. Judge Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee who has written critically of the Roe v. Wade decision, had stayed his order for seven days to give the F.D.A. time to appeal.

The F.D.A had asked the appeals court to extend the stay beyond that seven days.

The appellate ruling partly granted that request. In the decision, two Trump-appointed judges voted to reimpose some of the restrictions that the F.D.A. had eased in recent years. The third judge, appointed by President George W. Bush, said she would essentially have granted the full request.

Mike Ives contributed reporting.

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