Abortion drug mifepristone will remain available by mail, says the U.S. Supreme Court. (Credit: Adam Fagen, Flickr)

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of abortion pill access.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh – which likely surprised a few far-right activists – the court said that the plaintiffs, a cohort of anti-abortion doctors and interest groups, failed to adequately challenge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent rule changes that permitted the mailing of abortion drug mifepristone to patients.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue. Nor do the plaintiffs’ other standing theories suffice,” the ruling said. “Therefore, the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge FDA’s actions.”

The court first heard arguments for and against preserving mail-order availability of the drug back in March. And at the time, the court’s skepticism on display pointed to this outcome.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an appointee of former President Donald Trump’s, voiced doubts then that the plaintiffs had met their burden of proof of harm. “I think the difficulty here is that, at least to me, these affidavits do read more like the conscience objection is strictly to actually participating in the abortion to end the life of the embryo or fetus,” she said.

The FDA eased its restrictions on mail-order access during Covid lockdowns, setting aside long-standing rules requiring a patient to go to an in-person clinic for the pills. 

Mifepristone is currently the preferred method of abortion in the U.S., with six out of 10 people opting to carry out their abortions medically, studies show.

Pro-abortion activists expressed some relief over the ruling. “The court issued the only reasonable decision in this case – for now,” Jodi Hicks, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told The New York Times. “But we can’t let our guard down.” 

Others in this space shared Hicks’ reticence to celebrate too much. “The attacks on abortion pills will not stop here,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement to the TImes. “The anti-abortion movement sees how critical abortion pills are in this post-Roe world, and they are hell bent on cutting off access.”

She continued: “In the end, this ruling is not a ‘win’ for abortion – it just maintains the status quo, which is a dire public health crisis in which 14 states have criminalized abortion.”