The first drug, mifepristone, blocks the effects of progesterone, a hormone without which the lining of the uterus begins to break down. A second drug, misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours later, induces contractions of the uterus that expel its contents.
The contested measure requires women to appear in person to pick up the mifepristone and to sign a form, even when they had already consulted with their doctors remotely. The women can then take the drug when and where they choose. There is no requirement that women pick up misoprostol in person, and it is available at retail and mail-order pharmacies.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, all represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued to suspend the requirement that women make a trip to obtain the first drug in light of the pandemic. There was no good reason, the groups said, to require a visit when the drug could be delivered or mailed.
Judge Theodore D. Chuang, of the Federal District Court in Maryland, blocked the measure, saying that requiring pregnant women, many of them poor, to travel to obtain the drug imposed needless risk and delay, particularly given that the pandemic had forced many clinics to reduce their hours.
He imposed a nationwide injunction, reasoning that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more than 60,000 members practicing in all 50 states and that its membership includes some 90 percent of the nation’s obstetricians and gynecologists.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., refused to stay Judge Chuang’s injunction while an appeal moved forward. The Trump administration, which often seeks Supreme Court intervention on an emergency basis when it loses in the lower courts, asked the justices to stay the injunction.
The acting solicitor general, Jeffrey B. Wall, argued that the regulation was sensible, as it gave women an opportunity to consult with their doctors and ensured that they would receive the drug without delay. He added that the regulation did not impose the sort of substantial obstacle to access to abortion barred by the court’s precedents because it was still possible to obtain surgical abortions.