December 18, 2020

Federal Judge Denies Trump Administration's Request to Enforce Abortion Pill Regulations Again

photo credit: Joe Gratz / Flickr
In a ruling last week, a federal judge is continuing to prevent the FDA from enforcing Risk Evaluation and Mitigation System (REMS) safety requirements for the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol. This allows abortion pills to be sold over the internet without the woman first having an appointment with a doctor to assess the woman's pregnancy. 

Back in July, U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang placed FDA safety requirements that were applied to the abortion pill under a preliminary injunction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Siding with the ACLU and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Chuang said that the pandemic had moved the goalposts of what should be considered an "undue burden."

In August, Chuang went even further by allowing people to purchase abortion pills both online and in pharmacies without ever seeing a doctor in-person.

Also in August, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to stay Chuang's motion on the basis that “judges are not to second-guess how officials address public health concerns,” but the court chose not to rule on the merits of the injunction. Instead, it simply asked the government to “dissolve, modify, or stay the injunction, including on the ground that relevant circumstances have changed,” and for the District Court to rule again after receiving a renewed motion from the Trump administration.

On December 9, Chuang denied the Trump administration's renewed motion. The administration argued that because some states were relaxing their restrictions and the medical community had made progress on both treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, there should be a stay or dissolution on Chuang's injunction. Chuang disagreed, calling these arguments “premature.”

“Accordingly, while the progress on vaccines and medical treatments for COVID-19 are cause for optimism and may advance the day that the Preliminary Injunction will no longer be warranted, the impact of these advances to date has not meaningfully altered the current health risks and obstacles to women seeking medication abortions. The Court therefore finds that these factors do not materially alter the likelihood of success on the merits or warrant a stay or dissolution of the injunction at the present time.”

In situations where an unborn child has surpassed the gestational age at which an abortion via the abortion pill regimen is no longer safe, or the mother has an ectopic pregnancy which would pose an even greater risk to the mother if she were to take the abortion pill regimen, REMS safety requirements can be lifesaving. By continuing to prevent the FDA from enforcing these guidelines, Judge Chuang is increasing the risk that the abortion pill has to injure or kill women in addition to their unborn children.