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What's at stake if SCOTUS rules against mifepristone

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Tomorrow the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that could affect access to medication abortion nationwide. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has a preview of what's at stake.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: This case was filed months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade by anti-abortion rights doctors and groups. They argue the Food and Drug Administration should never have approved mifepristone nearly 25 years ago, and also shouldn't have made it easier to access in recent years. Mifepristone is a medication used in nearly two-thirds of all abortions. The first thing to understand about this case is that if the Supreme Court agrees with the lower courts, access to mifepristone could be restricted for everyone in all 50 states. Mary Ziegler is a legal history professor at UC Davis.

MARY ZIEGLER: There's an irony to this, because when the Supreme Court overruled Roe, the sort of takeaway, if you will, from Justice Alito was it's time for this question to be returned to the people and their elected representatives. And yet this is a reminder that what happens in the federal courts can override what voters decide.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: A recent poll found two-thirds of Americans across the political spectrum want this medication to remain legal and available. Dr. Jamila Perritt is an OB-GYN in Washington, D.C., and president of physicians for Reproductive Health. She explains there's a huge amount of research showing that mifepristone is safe and effective. She also says it's not just used for abortion.

JAMILA PERRITT: We use this medication in lots of different ways, during miscarriage management and to treat pregnancy loss.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That treatment can potentially ward off weeks of waiting, worrying and bleeding. The vast majority of Americans polled had no idea the medication is used for miscarriage treatment. Drug makers are extremely worried about the outcome in this case. Here is Dr. Amanda Banks, an industry consultant at an ACLU press conference earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

AMANDA BANKS: This case is about mifepristone right now. It's about one medicine. But it really could be any medicine.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Banks signed an amicus brief, along with hundreds of other pharmaceutical industry leaders, saying drug makers won't be able to justify investing in the long and expensive FDA approval process if it can be undone by judges. Mifepristone is still widely available in states where abortion is legal - for now. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected this summer. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Selena Simmons-Duffin
Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.