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Supreme Court: No changes to mifepristone access as litigation continues in lower court

5th Circuit to hear oral arguments in mifepristone case next month

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United States Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an ruling Friday evening that will preserve the status quo for access to the abortion medication mifepristone pending the outcome of ongoing litigation that is now before the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals.

Conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas opposed the decision in the 7-2 ruling, which was made pursuant to an emergency request by the U.S. Department of Justice to block rulings by lower federal courts that would have severely restricted access to the drug.

The legal battle continues to play out in the 5th Circuit, which is slated to hear oral arguments for the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on May 17.

The case was brought on appeal from the ruling by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas that effectively revoked the Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, which would thereby prohibit the drug’s sale and distribution even in states where abortion remains legal.

“I continue to stand by FDA’s evidence-based approval of mifepristone,” President Joe Biden said in a statement issued Friday after the High Court’s ruling. “My administration will continue to defend FDA’s independent, expert authority to review, approve, and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs,” the President said.

A statement issued by Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the importance of preserving access to mifepristone within the context of reproductive freedoms for women.

“The president and I will continue to fight to protect a woman’s freedom to make decisions about her own body and access to reproductive health care, including medication abortion,” Harris said. “No one should stand between a woman and her doctor.”

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statement took aim at what he characterized as partisan motivated efforts by jurists and political actors to restrict access to abortion drugs whose safety and efficacy has been well documented over more than two decades.

“The U.S. Supreme Court is right to take this action to protect access to medication abortion and put a hold on the extreme decisions of the Texas judge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals,” the governor said.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit against Montgomery County schools gender guidelines

4th Circuit last August dismissed parents’ case

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit against Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines that allow schools to create plans in support of transgender or gender nonconfirming students without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

Three parents of students in the school district — none of whom have trans or gender nonconfirming children — filed the lawsuit. 

A judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

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U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court rules Idaho to enforce gender care ban

House Bill 71 signed in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY MIA MALDONADO | The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Idaho to enforce House Bill 71, a law banning Idaho youth from receiving gender-affirming care medications and surgeries.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Idaho’s request to stay the preliminary injunction, which blocked the law from taking effect. This means the preliminary injunction now only applies to the plaintiffs involved in Poe v. Labrador — a lawsuit brought on by the families of two transgender teens in Idaho who seek gender-affirming care. 

Monday’s Supreme Court decision enforces the gender-affirming care ban for all other trans youth in Idaho as the lawsuit remains ongoing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, both of whom represent the plaintiffs, said in a press release Monday that the ruling “does not touch upon the constitutionality” of HB 71. The groups called Monday’s ruling an “awful result” for trans Idaho youth and their families.

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the organizations said in the press release. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in a press release said the state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that he is proud of the state’s legal stance. 

“Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support and medical care rooted in biological reality,” Labrador said. “Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

Recap of Idaho’s HB 71, and what led to SCOTUS opinion

Monday’s Supreme Court decision traces back to when HB 71 was signed into law in April 2023.

The law makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years for doctors to provide surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormones to trans people under the age of 18. However, gender-affirming surgeries are not and were not performed among Idaho adults or youth before the bill was signed into law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported

One month after it was signed into law, the families of two trans teens sued the state in a lawsuit alleging the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In late December, just days before the law was set to take effect in the new year, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill blocked the law from taking effect under a preliminary injunction. In his decision, he said he found the families likely to succeed in their challenge.

The state of Idaho responded by appealing the district court’s preliminary injunction decision to the Ninth Circuit, to which the Ninth Circuit denied. The state of Idaho argued the court should at least enforce the ban for everyone except for the plaintiffs. 

After the Ninth Circuit’s denial, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in February sent an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Idaho Press reported. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision agrees with the state’s request to enforce its ban on trans health care for minors, except for the two plaintiffs.

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Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international political economy.

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The preceding piece was previously published by the Idaho Capital Sun and is republished with permission.

The Idaho Capital Sun is the Gem State’s newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Supreme Court appears skeptical of arguments to restrict abortion pill access

Decision expected by June

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The Supreme Court as composed June 30, 2022 to present. Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Back row, left to right: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Photo Credit: Fred Schilling, The Supreme Court of the U.S.)

Hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared skeptical of arguments to curtail access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

A decision in the case is expected to come in June. The court’s most conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, signaled their support for the anti-abortion plaintiffs, who seek to prohibit telemedicine prescriptions and distribution of the pill by mail.

A ruling in their favor could also undermine the ability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to exercise its expert judgment on the safety and efficacy of medications without interference by courts — which, by and large, are not qualified to adjudicate these questions.

Such concerns were relayed even by justices like Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, and who warned on Tuesday that the case might stand as “a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an F.D.A. rule or any other federal government action.”

Mifepristone was first approved in the year 2000. The drug, taken together with misoprostol, is the most commonly used method of terminating pregnancies in the U.S.

The justices’ questions also showed their skepticism toward plaintiffs’ arguments that concrete harms will result if the medication remains widely available. For instance, Gorsuch and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson noted healthcare providers are already permitted to opt out of providing care to which they have moral objections.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the government, preserving access to mifepristone including through telemedicine and mail-order prescriptions, more than a dozen conservative states have banned the drug and implemented near-total abortion bans pursuant to the court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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