Supreme Court expected to weigh in on abortion pill access – National & International News – FRI 21Apr2023


Supreme Court to weigh in on abortion pills.

Debt ceiling drama continues after House GOP releases proposal with steep budget cuts.

Sudan: US readies forces for possible embassy evacuation.



Supreme Court to weigh in on abortion pills

UPDATE: Supreme Court preserves access to mifepristone, for now

By midnight tonight, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling that will affect the availability of the abortion medication mifepristone while a challenge to its FDA approval more than 20 years ago works its way through the courts.

Earlier this month, Federal District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, TX, sided with a conservative group who brought suit arguing that the FDA improperly approved the drug in 2000. Kacsmaryk issued a ruling that halted the FDA approval of the drug. Had his ruling gone into effect, mifepristone would have ceased to be available for purchase or prescription throughout the country.

The conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals then partially blocked Kacsmaryk’s order. The court ruled that the group had waited far too long to challenge mifepristone’s approval (the typical window to bring challenge is 6 years). However, the 5th Circuit ruled that more recent FDA decisions about mifepristone were subject to litigation. This included the FDA’s approval for use at 10 weeks of pregnancy (up from the original 7 weeks), as well as the FDA’s guidelines that a lower dose could be used. The court also froze a pandemic-era rule allowing mifepristone to be prescribed over telehealth and shipped through the mail.

SCOTUS weighs options

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an administrative stay on the 5th Circuit’s decision. The Court initially planned to issue a ruling on Wednesday, but instead they extended the administrative stay until Friday.

It’s unclear what direction the Supreme Court will take. The Court could potentially allow some or all of the 5th Circuit’s restrictions to remain in place while the full case moves through the court system. The Justice Department and mifepristone’s producer Danco Laboratories want all court impose restrictions lifted.

The court could also give itself more time to debate. If they fail to act at all by midnight tonight, this would allow Kacsmaryk’s full order banning mifepristone nationwide to take effect.

Danco has told the court that if the court imposes any restrictions, the company will have to relabel all of its medication. This would effectively mean mifepristone would be off the market for months.

If the court takes no action or allows the restrictions to take effect, the DOJ will ask the court to hear the full case on an accelerated basis so that a final ruling can be issued this summer. The court rarely agrees to do this before an appeals court has had a full hearing.

The DOJ has argued that allowing any of the court-ordered restrictions to remain in place would seriously undermine the FDA’s authority in regulating drug safety.

Women and providers look for alternatives

Any restrictions would cause tremendous disruption for abortion providers and women seeking abortions. Medication abortions account for more than half of of abortions in the US. Even in states where abortion is legal, cutting back mifepristone’s approval to 7 weeks and forbidding its transmission through the mail would severely curtail its availability and usefulness. This would increase the demand for surgical abortions at already overwhelmed clinics. Additionally, competing rulings on mifepristone’s availability from other federal courts further complicate the legalities. 

Abortion providers are already looking for safe alternatives. When managing a medication abortion, mifepristone is usually used in combination with another drug, misoprostol. These rulings will not affect the availability of misoprostol. In other countries, doctors prescribe a regimen using only misoprostol for medication abortions. US providers are already preparing to implement this misoprostol-only protocol more widely if necessary. However, misoprostol-only protocols are less effective than its use in combination with mifepristone.

Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, women in abortion restrictive states have increasingly turned to other sources to obtain medication abortions. This includes ordering the drugs from international providers like Aid Access, which is based in Europe. Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, who runs Aid Access, says her group has seen a sharp increase in inquiries and requests for abortion medications since Kacsmaryk’s original ruling on April 7.  

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Debt ceiling drama continues after House GOP releases proposal with steep budget cuts

Sometime this summer, the federal government will run out of money to pay its bills. If that happens, it will trigger a catastrophic default on US debt. The outcome of this is unpredictable as it has never happened before in nearly 250 years of US governance.

When other countries have defaulted on debt in recent history, its created horrific hardship for that country’s citizens such as mass unemployment and runaway inflation.

But default has never happened in a country whose currency has the reach of the US dollar, nor in a country with such a massive debt profile as the US. In a worst case scenario, a US default could plunge much of the world into an economic freefall that would rival the Great Depression.

Despite the enormous stakes, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a gaggle of his most hardline Republicans are choosing to play politics with the good faith and credit of the United States. Congress must periodically approve an increase in the US borrowing limit which we call the debt ceiling. This is in order to cover debts we’ve already incurred, not to increase spending.

A dangerous game of chicken

In 2011, the last time we came remotely close to default, it led to the nation’s credit being downgraded for the first time in its history.

Uncertainty over this is already threatening to tumble the US economy into a full-blown recession. McCarthy and the Republicans are essentially holding a gun to the federal government’s head and demanding that upholding the nation’s credit be predicated upon deep spending cuts.

Biden and the Democrats who control the Senate are demanding a “clean” debt ceiling bill and insisting, correctly, that the time to talk budget is during federal budget talks, which this isn’t.

McCarthy has disingenuously (or ignorantly) compares the US debt to the average American balancing their cheque book. The two things are not remotely similar. The United States and every country on the planet uses deficit spending to grows their economies. 

McCarthy’s ransom note

Since February, McCarthy has been calling on Biden to negotiate with him over the budget, which Biden has so far flatly refused to do. Until earlier this week, McCarthy hadn’t even released his own party’s budget proposal. The one they finally released earlier this week is more a ransom letter than a budget proposal.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the GOP plan rules out any tax increases. The 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy under former President Trump have been instrumental in adding billions to the federal deficit. The GOP also wants to repeal legislation that would increase funding for the IRS to pursue tax cheats. Failing to increase IRS enforcement would cost the US $204 billion over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. 

The GOP budget also rules out any cuts to the vast Pentagon budget. Instead, the GOP wants to cut funding to programs that benefit average Americans. These proposals are a non-starter for Democrats. So essentially we’re no further along than we were in February, and the clock is ticking.

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Sudan: US mobilizing forces to possibly evacuate embassy personnel

The fierce fighting in Sudan between the rival armies of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues for a 6th day. Numerous attempts at a ceasefire have fallen through and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly. In the capital Khartoum, parts of the city have been without power or running water for days. Hospitals have shut down and supplies basic necessities like food and medical supplies are critically low.

The fighting is taking place in civilian neighborhoods. RSF forces will take over and occupy a house, forcing the inhabitants out, and then the SAF will bomb them. There are reports that soldiers have also particularly targeted foreigners working for embassies or aid organizations with executions and sexual violence. 

Even Sudan’s neighbors in central Africa have struggled to get their people out because the airports aren’t operational. Traveling by road is dangerous and even US diplomatic convoys are subject to ambush by either side. 

The Pentagon says it is mobilizing its forces in Djibouti, a small country by the Red Sea. The mobilization is readying forces for a possible evacuation of US Embassy personnel from Sudan. There are around 16,000 registered Americans in Sudan. However, the White House says there is no plan for a full evacuation of its citizens.

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