Apr 18, 2023 - Health

GOP lawmakers urge Supreme Court to let abortion pill restrictions take effect

Picture of John Thune

Senate Minority Whip John Thune. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Nearly 150 Republican lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to allow lower court rulings imposing restrictions on a widely used abortion pill to take effect.

Why it matters: Lawmakers who signed on to the brief that was filed to the court include some within Republican leadership, such as Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Catch up fast: Justice Samuel Alito last week temporarily blocked lower court rulings that would have reimposed restrictions on mifepristone, used for medication abortion, that the Food and Drug Administration had lifted over the years.

  • Currently, two opposite federal rulings could dictate the future of abortion pills in the country: one that threatens the agency's approval of mifepristone and adds limitations to the drug, and one that prohibits the agency from rolling back access to the pill.

Details: The 147 lawmakers, led by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to allow the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling reinstating mifepristone's restrictions to take effect.

  • "[T]he FDA’s actions have contravened" federal law, the lawmakers argue, adding that the agency exceeded "the scope of its authorized power from Congress" when it approved mifepristone.
  • They also take aim at the FDA's reduction of the drug's restrictions, such as allowing for the use of telemedicine to provide the pill.
  • The lawmakers said in a footnote that their brief is focused on the actions the FDA took on mifepristone from 2016 onward instead of the full approval of the drug because the anti-abortion groups in the case have not asked the Supreme Court to halt the drug's overall authorization.

Of note: The anti-abortion groups in the case, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to let the 5th Circuit Court's ruling take effect and to return the case to lower courts.

Between the lines: The new brief marks an increase in support from Republicans on imposing restrictions on mifepristone.

  • In comparison, only 69 Republicans signed on to a brief filed to the 5th Circuit asking the appellate court to let U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk's ruling halting the FDA's overall approval of mifepristone — and no Republicans in leadership participated in that request.

What we're watching: The handful of signers facing competitive elections in 2024 should expect it to come up in attacks on the campaign trail, two Democratic operatives told Axios.

  • Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Monica De La Cruz (R-Texas) are top targets for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — which blasted Boebert last week for signing the 5th Circuit brief.
  • Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are also seen as potentially vulnerable.
  • Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) is also running to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), while Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) are considering Senate bids against Democratic incumbents.

Meanwhile, 253 Democrats last week filed a brief urging the justices to block the lower court rulings, arguing that Congress has not allowed federal courts "to substitute their judgment for the expert conclusions of FDA's scientists."

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