ACLU Takes Federal Government to Court Over Abortion Pill Restrictions

It’s arguing that a decade-old FDA rule places an “undue burden” on women.

Protestors rally outside of the Supreme Court on March 2, 2016 during oral arguments in the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case.Douliery Olivier/Sipa via AP Images

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Food and Drug Administration over the agency’s restrictions on medication abortion. The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court on behalf of a Hawaii doctor and several health care associations, specifically targets a restriction on mifepristone, a common drug used in medication abortion. 

Medication abortion involves two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. The FDA’s current rules, implemented in 2007, only allow mifepristone to be dispensed at a medical facility, like a doctor’s office or a clinic. By contrast, misoprostol is available at pharmacies with a prescription. Dr. Graham Chelius, a family medicine doctor in Hawaii and a plaintiff in the suit, says that the mifepristone restriction has made it nearly impossible for patients in rural Hawaii to access the procedure at all. That’s because, he says, some hospitals in the state, including his own, don’t stock mifepristone. 

“Because of the FDA’s restrictions,” said Chelius in a press release, “my patients are forced either to fly to a different provider on another island—resulting in serious delays—or to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.” According to the lawsuit, carrying a pregnancy to term poses a risk of fatality that is fourteen times greater than taking Mileprex, the brand name for mifepristone.

“The FDA restrictions harm patients by delaying time sensitive healthcare, imposing needless costs, and blocking some women from accessing abortion at all,” Julia Kaye, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, told reporters. 

More than a third of people who choose to end their pregnancies use medication abortion to do so, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Chelius and the ACLU are hoping to overturn the FDA rule, which would then allow patients to pick up prescriptions for mifepristone at their local pharmacy and expand access to the procedure for low-income and rural women. 

“This case is about where a woman is standing when the pill is handed to her,” says Kaye. “This is about abortion stigma, not science.” 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.