In its first abortion case since the installment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court brought back a federal requirement that people seeking abortion using medication will be required to pick up the pill in person from a healthcare facility.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. said the ruling ultimately referred back to the opinions of experts.
The ruling wasn’t about if the requirement put additional “burden on a [person]’s right to an abortion as a general matter,” but it was more to do with if a federal judge questioning the Food and Drug Administration’s opinion on the matter based on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Here as in related contexts concerning government responses to the pandemic,” Roberts wrote, referencing a previous opinion, “my view is that courts owe significant deference to the politically accountable entities with the ‘background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, along with Justice Elena Kagan offered dissent. Sotomayor wrote: “This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks. Like many of those laws, maintaining the FDA’s in-person requirements,” for picking up the medication, “during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational and unjustifiable undue burden on [people] seeking to exercise their right to choose.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted about the court’s decision, citing the disproportionate impact it will have on Black people, other people of color, and people with low incomes.
Sotomayor suggested the incoming administration of Joe Biden reexamine the decision.
“One can only hope that the government will reconsider and exhibit greater care and empathy for [people] seeking some measure of control over their health and reproductive lives in these unsettling times,” she wrote.
About 60% of abortions performed during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy use medication rather than undergoing surgery.
Judge Theodore D. Chuang from the Federal District Court of Maryland had originally blocked the requirement, citing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 a person would face visiting a healthcare facility.
The decision ended up in the Supreme Court after a panel of three federal judges in Richmond, Virginia refused to stay Judge Huang’s order at the request of Donald Trump.
The ACLU and other groups including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are calling on Biden to address this issue when he takes office in the coming days.
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