June 13, 2024

Please see below for statements from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law’s health law experts on the Supreme Court’s decision in Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine.

Michele Goodwin, co-faculty director:

Today’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling is a victory for all Americans who need medical care, and specifically pharmaceutical medicines to help them address a variety of health care conditions. This case was borne out of a group of aggrieved litigants who sought to remove a safe and efficacious drug from the marketplace, despite the fact that they had myriad other options in refusing to provide care to patients who seek abortions. For example, as noted by the Supreme Court these litigants could use religious conscientious objection, which was noted in the majority’s opinion, and discussed in oral arguments.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that these individuals lacked standing. Many scholars and pundits commented as such as the case was making its way through the U.S. legal system. A very clear case was made that these individuals lacked standing. Amongst them are individuals who have no medical training or licenses. Even while they brought the case as medical doctors that see patients for reproductive care, only two were qualified to do so. Among them is an individual with a master’s degree in theology but no medical degree, and another is a dentist, but all posed as doctors who would be put in a vulnerable position if they were required to provide assistance to women who needed abortions or care after abortion.

This case, while a victory for people who are patients throughout the United States, is also alarming given that this litigation ultimately reached the Supreme Court and was not dismissed at the district court level or struck down entirely in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. What it represents, is the way in which women’s health and women’s reproductive health have become so weaponized in the United States. In this instance even the most remote litigants with no standing could have their abortion challenge reach the Supreme Court. The danger is not only one to women who need urgent reproductive health care, but all Americans who use prescription medications that are safe and efficacious.

This case, though, it appears as a victory and must be understood as being a success for reproductive health advocates, still does not intervene in the broader debates, both legal and health-wise that relate to matters of abortion. There are lawmakers who have proposed the death penalty against women who have abortions. There are legislators who do not believe rape and incest should qualify for exceptions to abortion bans. And, we must not forget, there remains laws that seek to criminally and civilly punish doctors who try to help their patients manage miscarriages and stillbirths. Thus, this case highlights the ways in which health and science have become so disregarded, that even judges may become complicit in attacking FDA findings not based on evidence, but rather loose conjecturing.

Lawrence O. Gostin, co-faculty director:

Today, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to preserve FDA’s expanded access to the abortion medication, mifepristone. Anyone who cares about reproductive freedom will breathe a sigh of relief. The FDA’s role as a scientific agency also survives. But for how long? This was a technical ruling, denying standing for a group of anti-abortion activists. The Court aptly recognized that allowing health care providers to “challenge general safety regulations as unlawfully lax” would be unprecedented and limitless, turning federal courts into a sword to challenge virtually any health policy. Today’s decision maintains FDA’s ability to regulate drugs based on science. Most importantly, patients will continue to have access to mifepristone, among the safest drugs on the market.

But make no mistake. The Supreme Court is still hostile to abortion rights and shows a distinctly anti-science tendency. Threats to American’s freedoms and to science itself are still real and imminent.

Rebecca Reingold, associate director:

The FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine decision turns on the threshold matter of standing, sending a clear message that the Supreme Court is not prepared to begin allowing citizens to challenge policies affecting public health. However, the legal fight over access to mifepristone and judicial attacks on administrative agencies long entrusted with making scientific decisions about health is far from over. The Supreme Court does not reach the merits of this case, and a handful of states are poised to advance similar challenges through the federal courts. Today, it averts a decision that could have imposed unnecessary restrictions on access to a medication proven to be both safe and effective.

But the prospect of future litigation means other judicial decisions could impose additional barriers on essential reproductive health services, with devastating consequences for the health, well-being, and dignity of people across the country.

If you are interested in interviews with the experts, please contact Heena Patel, O’Neill Institute director of strategic communications, at hp498@georgetown.edu.