Supreme Court issues ruling on medication abortion, local entities respond

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FILE – In this Oct. 31, 2019, file photo, Planned Parenthood supporters dressed In “The Handmaid’s Tale” costumes stand in silence in St. Louis before the fourth day of hearings between Planned Parenthood and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Government funding for Missouri Planned Parenthood clinics is at stake in a lawsuit set to be argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, Dec. 10. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Access to the abortion pill will require in-person pickup, despite the ongoing pandemic. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its first ruling on abortion since the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the bench.

The ruling reinstates a stipulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that requires pregnant people to pick-up medication to end pregnancy in-person at a hospital or medical office.

Medication abortion made up about 40 percent of all abortions in the U.S. in 2017, with the majority offered at high-volume clinics and specialized facilities.

Data shows that as abortion rates in the U.S. decrease, the proportion of medication abortion is steadily increasing.

Regional pro-life groups commend the decision and say the move is pro-woman.

“The abortion pill is not without its side effects and some of those have even lead to the deaths of numerous women. FDA regulations are in place because that is what is best when using abortion-inducing drugs,” said Tara Shaver, spokesperson for Abortion Free New Mexico. 

“We are glad to see that SCOTUS is making decisions that are in the best interest and health of the mother,” Shaver continued. 

The reinstatement of the FDA regulation concerns pro-choice advocates, including members of SCOTUS. 

Three justices dissented and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was the only member of the majority to offer an explanation. 

Roberts said the ruling should be deferred to experts. 

The issue is not about “an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion as a general matter,” said Roberts, but rather whether federal courts had the authority to challenge the FDA’s determination based on the court’s evaluation of the pandemic’s effect. 

“Here, as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic, my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence and expertise to assess public health,’” wrote Roberts. 

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan strongly disagreed. 

The dissenting justices say the FDA’s in-person requirement imposes unacceptable and undue burdens on women exercising their right to choose. 

“This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks,” wrote Sotomayor.

New abortion restrictions implemented in Texas during the fall of 2020 add to the tedium of accessing reproductive health care.

For example, patients must access state-directed counseling designed to discourage abortion and wait 24 hours before being able to have the procedure. The counseling must be provided in-person and within 100 miles of the abortion provider.

The counseling must take place before the waiting period begins, meaning women must take two separate trips over the course of a few days. 

A 2018 study reports Texas has the most cities more than 100 miles away from an abortion clinic than any other state.

Sotomayor is hopeful the incoming Biden-Harris administration will be more pragmatic.

“One can only hope that the government will reconsider and exhibit greater care and empathy for women seeking some measure of control over their health and reproductive lives in these unsettling times,” she wrote.

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