(Washington) The US Supreme Court on Friday temporarily upheld access to the abortion pill, a popular method of abortion in the United States, by suspending the decision of a lower court, in order to have more time to consider the case.

This suspension is valid until Wednesday before midnight, said the Supreme Court in its decision, and the parties will have to present their arguments before Tuesday noon.

The temple of American law, with a conservative majority, had been urgently seized by the Biden government, which asked it to act before restrictions on access to this pill, ordered by an appeals court, take effect in night from Friday to Saturday.

The temporary suspension ordered by the Supreme Court does not predict its future decision on the case, the outcome of which remains very uncertain.

The ongoing legal battle, the latest twist in the assault on abortion rights in the United States, is about access to mifepristone throughout the United States.

In combination with another drug, this pill is used for more than half of abortions in the United States. More than five million American women have already taken it since it was approved by the United States Medicines Agency (FDA) more than 20 years ago.

The legal saga began last week when a federal judge in Texas, seized by anti-abortion activists, had withdrawn the marketing authorization for mifepristone. Despite the scientific consensus, he felt that it posed health risks to women.

A period of one week was expected before his decision applied.

Seized by the federal government, the appeals court had partially invalidated the judge’s decision, allowing the abortion pill to remain authorized for the time being – but it had reversed the access facilities granted by the FDA over the years.

His judgment thus amounted in particular to prohibiting the sending of mifepristone by post, and to returning to a use limited to seven weeks of pregnancy, instead of ten.

In its motion, the Biden government therefore requested a “suspension” of the appeals court’s judgment “to preserve the status quo”, pending a review of the case on the merits. Otherwise, he said, the restrictions would create “regulatory chaos”.

Another federal judge on the contrary prohibited the FDA from changing the conditions of distribution of the abortion pill in the 17 states at the origin of the action and the capital Washington, placing the agency in an “untenable situation”, had argued the government.

Federal judge and appeals court rulings “ignore the millions of people who have used this drug safely,” Fatima Goss-Graves of the National Women’s Law Center said at a small rally outside the court. Supreme Friday.

They are “playing a very dangerous game, undermining the scientific judgment of the FDA for past and future drug approvals,” added Laura Meyers of the family planning organization Planned Parenthood.

The fear of pharmaceutical bosses, like many experts, is that these lawsuits will pave the way for other drugs – or even vaccines – to be challenged by the courts.

This is the first time that a court of justice has canceled the conditions for authorizing a drug on the basis of an assessment of its safety, replacing the experts, the Biden administration was indignant.

One of the two companies that market mifepristone in the United States, the Danco laboratory, had also asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

On Thursday, the legislature of Florida, one of the most populous US states, also passed a law banning abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant.

States have been free to legislate on the subject since the Supreme Court overturned, in a landmark decision in June 2022, federal abortion protections, burying the iconic Roe v. Wade from 1973.

In about fifteen states, abortion is now prohibited (with rare exceptions) – including by medication.

Backdoors exist, however, for women in these states: organizations are mobilized to offer abortion pills from abroad or from other states, and commercial sites sell them online.

Where abortion remains legal, if access to mifepristone is restricted, women would still have the option of an aspiration abortion – a more cumbersome procedure, requiring a visit to a clinic.

Some doctors are considering continuing to offer medical abortions using only the second tablet, misoprostol. But this protocol has a slightly lower efficacy rate and more side effects (severe cramps, etc.) than that combining misoprostol and mifepristone.