‘We won’t go back’: Supreme Court ruling protects access to abortion pill


Lucas Paredes

Linda Loew, activist and founding member of Chicago for Abortion Rights, was one of many activists who spoke on April 19 in opposition of conservative efforts to outlaw the abortion pill mifepristone at the oiutside Dirksen Federal Courthouse, at Federal Plaza.

Around two dozen protesters gathered on Wednesday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in the Loop to protest a lawsuit jeopardizing mifepristone, a drug that is used in termination of a pregnancy as well as to manage a miscarriage. Conservative groups sued the FDA, claiming the drug was approved without regard to safety and could be potentially taken off the market. 

The protest came two days before the Supreme Court ruled Friday that FDA approval stands and mifepristone can stay on the market for now while the lawsuit plays out in lower courts.

“I think it’s outrageous that the judges have the right to take away a safe, legal medication that has been used widely for 23 years to manage abortions and miscarriages,” said Chicago for Abortion Rights member Cathleen Gutekanst. “It just shows the contempt with which they hold women and people who can get pregnant.” 

The FDA approved the drug in 2000, but conservative anti-choice groups have opposed it, saying that the original FDA approval process was flawed. 

According to the Associated Press, over half of U.S. abortions are done with pills. Since mifepristone was approved by the FDA in 2000, it has become the primary drug used in medicated abortions.

“The Supreme Court, the judges, the states: they’re all going to get rid of abortion for women. It’s our rights, our lives, it’s women’s lives,” said protest attendee Lynda Antman. “It’s [about] women’s futures. It is little girls who are coming up now who are not going to have a choice. This is just an attack on women.”

The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a conservative medical group, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, sued the FDA claiming that mifepristone was unsafe, it should not have been approved by the FDA and that several doctors also  have been harmed by their patient’s use of the drug.

The plaintiffs also allege that mifepristone violates the 1873 Comstock Act, which bans the use of the postal service to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious,” “immoral,” or “indecent” materials. This included materials such as medicine or pamphlets relating to contraception and abortion, even if written by a medical professional, resulting in the arrest of doctors. 

While the plaintiffs used this law as part of their argument against the approval of mifepristone, according to a Dec. 23 memoranda from the U.S. Justice Department the sending of mifepristone and another abortive drug, misoprostol, is that it does not violate the Comstock Act. 

Several organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) filed an amicus brief against the lawsuit. 

“[Hippocratic Medicine] have taken a position that is fundamentally ideological, not scientific,” said the organizations in the brief. They seek to end the practice of medication abortion using mifepristone, encouraging the Court to upend the expert judgment of the FDA and overturn a 23 year-old approval. Their request is not based on rigorous scientific review and analysis but on speculation and the personal opinions of two physicians.”

In a transcript of the trial so far, the plaintiffs presented evidence suggesting that the pill was unsafe, a claim that these organizations dispute. 

“The FDA based its initial approval on robust evidence which showed mifepristone was extremely safe,” they wrote.  Serious side effects occur in less than 1% of patients, and major adverse events occur in less than 0.3% of patients. The risk of death is almost non-existent. Mifepristone is also recommended for the safe and effective treatment of miscarriage, which can be dangerous if left untreated.”

Furthermore, some attendees at the protest expressed fear that banning abortion and mifepristone could lead to unsafe, illegal abortions. 

“I have a lot of family in the Dominican Republic and abortion there is not safe and accessible at all. You hear every day about women dying from trying to do it themselves,” said University of Chicago student and attendee Viviana Hilario. “And if they can do it safely and legally then that saves the lives of millions.” 

If this case is ruled in favor of Hippocratic Medicine, any person with a uterus could find themselves without access to the drug, according to a Planned Parenthood press release. 

“I’m most concerned that it will affect millions of women who will have a harder time or find it impossible to get an abortion because they’ll be afraid of the results, they’ll be afraid of what will happen if they can only take one pill,” said protester Phil Passen. “It will destroy healthcare for a lot of women.”

As the 2024 U.S. presidential election approaches, some protesters said reproductive rights will be an issue they take to the ballot box. 

“You can see that in every single state where [there] has been a referendum [for abortion], it has won,” Gutekanst said. “I think the majority of American people, the majority of people who are Catholic; I was raised Catholic, and all my sisters, everyone in my family, supports the right to abortion. It’s your decision, not a judge.” 

However, other attendees stressed the importance of activism and protesting in voicing concerns for issues surrounding reproductive rights. 

“I’m not waiting until 2024,” Antman said. “We can vote, I can vote, I’ve been voting. It has done no good. We need to be on the streets, people need to be in the streets. In other countries women have led the way, and then whole populations have followed, and they’ve won! And that’s what we need to do.”