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Abortion providers "relieved" abortion pill remains available, for now

For Michiganders, the biggest impact of the appeals court’s decision may be telehealth, where providers like Planned Parenthood meet virtually with patients and send mifepristone and misoprostol directly to their homes through the mail.
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The Supreme Court's decision means mifepristone will still be available in Michigan, including via mail, while the case plays out in court.

Sitting in her home at the end of a long week, with her kids asleep upstairs, Dr. Audrey Lance allowed herself to feel some relief Friday evening, however temporary.

Just hours earlier, she’d been speaking with a patient at a Northland Family Planning clinic in Metro Detroit, where Lance is an OB/GYN.

“I was talking to a patient that was coming next week for her abortion. And she was terrified about the ruling tonight, and what it would mean for her, and what it would mean for what her abortion appointment would look like, and the options that she would have. And I just hate that my patients have to be put through this roller coaster. It is just completely unfair….So I hope that my patient from today and many other patients are also feeling that relief that I'm feeling.”

Reactions poured in from Michigan politicians and health professionals late Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would allow broad access to the abortion pill mifepristone to remain in place while a legal challenge plays out in court.

The decision means restrictions placed on the drug by two lower courts won’t go into effect, at least not yet. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Texas issued an order completely revoking the FDA’s authorization of mifepristone. That order was partially blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said it would allow some restrictions on the drug, including not allowing it to be sent by mail, and only allowing it to be used up to seven weeks of pregnancy, rather than 10.

“I am relieved that we can continue to provide the care that our patients count on us for,” Dr. Lisa Harris, associate chair of the University of Michigan’s Obstetrics and Gynecology department, said via email. “And I am relieved that patients experiencing miscarriage or who make the decision to end a pregnancy can still have access to the most effective, evidence-based care. I also want to be sure to note that this doesn't mean it is easy for patients to access care. I continue to see patients who have driven from states as far away as Texas and Alabama because they can't get care at home. But at least we can be here for them, along with patients from here in Michigan.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement Friday night, saying that the “fight was far from over.”

“This ruling may feel like a victory, and it’s certainly not a defeat, but let’s be clear eyed about what transpired. Tonight, was a night where women across this country didn’t lose access to a proven, effective, and safe prescription medication that has been relied upon for twenty years and is currently used in over half of all abortions. This ruling means mifepristone remains FDA approved without the many restrictions imposed by the 5th Circuit.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.