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Supreme Court Refuses To Limit Abortion Drug's Use

Bottles of the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 are shown in 2010 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of an Arizona law aimed at limiting use of the increasingly popular abortion pill. In 2012 nearly half of the abortions in the state were via the pill, known as RU-486.

The pill was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Since then, scientists have developed safer and smaller doses that allow the drug to be used through the ninth week.

The medication is increasingly popular as a cheaper and safer alternative to intrusive surgery, and it makes abortion available in areas where abortion clinics have had to close down under public pressure or new state laws.

In reaction, some states have passed laws to limit the use of the pill; Arizona's forces doctors to use the pill only for the original, FDA-approved seven weeks.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in California, temporarily blocked enforcement of the state statute, pending further litigation. The lower court said the Arizona law imposed "an undue burden" on a woman's right to have an abortion. That is the standard the Supreme Court adopted in its last major abortion case in 1992, and in recent years abortion opponents have sought to roll back that standard.

But on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene, meaning that at least for now, the Arizona law will not be enforced, and the "undue burden" test stands.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.