US appeals court partly halts ruling that endangers access to key abortion pill

HOUSTON, April 13 (Xinhua) -- The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late on Wednesday partly blocked a ruling that endangers access to the key abortion pill mifepristone in the United States.

In this photo illustration taken on May 8, 2020, a woman looks at website with the Mifepristone Abortion Pill on her smart phone in Arlington, Virginia. (File photo: AFP)

Matthew Kacsmaryk, a district judge in Amarillo, Texas, appointed by former President Donald Trump, last week suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the drug while anti-abortion groups pursue a legal challenge seeking to ban it.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Justice Department's emergency request to put on hold the part of Kacsmaryk's decision, but with significant restrictions on the drug's widespread availability including a requirement for patients' in-person visits to obtain it.

The appeals court said it would expedite its full consideration of the case.

Kacsmaryk's decision "upended decades of reliance by blocking the FDA's approval of mifepristone and depriving patients of access to this safe and effective treatment, based on the court's own misguided assessment of the drug's safety," Justice Department lawyers wrote in court papers.

Complicating the situation, a federal judge in northwestern Washington state on Friday ordered U.S. authorities not to make any changes to the drug's access in 17 states and the District of Columbia that sued over the issue, countering the ruling by Kacsmaryk. The judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the FDA from "altering the status quo and rights as it relates to the availability of mifepristone."

The U.S. Justice Department can still ask the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to intervene in an attempt to completely block Kacsmaryk's ruling, according to local media.