Non-surgical abortion may be the next Supreme Court flash point

The next big SCOTUS case on abortion rights in America could be medication abortions, says one court watcher

Topics: Abortion, Women's Rights, Reproductive Rights, SCOTUS, Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court, Oklahoma, , ,

Non-surgical abortion may be the next Supreme Court flash point (Credit: Bob Brown/AP)

Over the last three years, reproductive rights opponents have tried to restrict access to abortion in every way imaginable: passing pre-viability bans on the procedure, trying to shutter clinics through excessive regulation, instituting mandatory waiting periods and coercive counseling — really, I could go on (and on).

But as Linda Greenhouse notes in the New York Times, despite the attention recent laws like Texas’ 20-week abortion ban are getting, the Supreme Court’s next big abortion case may not be about viability and late-term abortion. Instead, non-surgical abortion, often performed within the first six to seven weeks of a pregnancy, may be the issue to determine the new fault lines of abortion access in the United States.

More from Greenhouse:

It’s understandable if you haven’t heard of Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, which has received relatively little attention since the court accepted it on June 27, the day after the term ended. The lack of attention is itself understandable.

The case is an appeal by the state of Oklahoma from a ruling by its Supreme Court striking down a law that limits doctors’ ability to prescribe the pills used to terminate early pregnancies. The medical abortion regimen, often referred to as RU-486, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 as a safe and effective alternative to surgical abortion early in the first trimester. It has been used since then by close to two million American women, currently about 200,000 a year out of some 1.2 million abortions performed annually. The Oklahoma law doesn’t ban the medical procedure. Rather, it requires doctors to follow the dosage and other instructions on the F.D.A. label. Viewed outside its context in the battle over abortion, the law looks perfectly sensible, a routine state regulation of medical practice. (Spoiler alert: it isn’t.)

In the Oklahoma case, a state trial judge, Donald L. Worthington, reviewed the evidence and found that the lower dose of Mifeprex [being challenged by the Oklahoma law] was being used “in a great majority of cases of medication abortions in the United States” and had been “demonstrated by scientific research to be safer and more effective” than the original F.D.A.-approved dose. Requiring doctors to use the higher dose, the judge concluded in an opinion in May of last year, was “so completely at odds with the standard that governs the practice of medicine that it can serve no purpose other than to prevent women from obtaining abortions and to punish and discriminate against those women who do.” The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the decision last December.

You Might Also Like

As Salon has previously noted, despite ample research showing that medication abortion and telemedicine (the administering of abortion-inducing medication by a trained technician under the remote supervision of a physician) is safe and effective, several states have passed laws restricting the use of abortion drugs, creating a barrier to access, particularly for low-income women.

The medical abortion case, if the court ultimately takes it up (the issue is still pending), may well determine where the court is “willing to draw a line between acceptable and impermissible obstacles to access to abortion” in 2013, a ruling that could radically impact legal safeguards around a woman’s right to choose.

For more on how this case may shake out given the court’s current makeup (and by that I mean, “What will Anthony Kennedy do?”), read the rest here.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...