Attorney General William Tong with abortion rights advocates. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Access to the medication abortion drug mifepristone will not be immediately impacted in Connecticut despite a recent appeals court ruling rolling back federal regulations expanding its availability, Attorney General William Tong announced this week.

“Abortion remains safe, legal, and accessible in Connecticut,” Tong said in a press release. “But let’s be clear – this decision imposes medically-unnecessary barriers that will hurt patients and senselessly complicate care in far too many states nationwide.”

In a 93-page decision Wednesday, a panel of 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals judges affirmed certain elements of a lower court ruling which restricted access to the widely used abortion pill. The ruling sets up an expected appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The panel struck down a set of regulations issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2016, which have allowed the drug to be issued up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy and be prescribed by providers other than doctors. Another regulation rejected by the court has permitted the drug to be prescribed through telehealth visits.

“In loosening mifepristone’s safety restrictions, FDA failed to address several important concerns about whether the drug would be safe for the women who use it,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the majority of the three-judge panel. “It failed to consider the cumulative effect of removing several important safeguards at the same time.”

For the moment, existing rules on the on the availability of mifepristone will remain in place until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case. 

Though the Wednesday ruling would reduce access to mifepristone, the New Orleans-based appeals court stopped short of embracing a more sweeping ruling issued in April by a federal judge in Texas. That decision would have forced the FDA to rescind its initial approval of the drug, which was granted back in 2000.

On Wednesday, the three-judge panel concluded that the claim against the drug’s original approval was barred by a statute of limitations.

Medication abortions make up more than half of all abortions in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Mifepristone is also used as part of a cocktail of medications prescribed by doctors to help women manage miscarriages.

Lawsuits challenging the availability of Mifepristone come as states across the country have begun banning and restricting access to abortions following the Supreme Court’s 2022 reversal of national protections under the longstanding Roe v. Wade decision.

Since then, policymakers in Connecticut have moved to shore up abortion rights through laws intended to shield patients and doctors from legal action by states that have outlawed the procedure. Meanwhile, Tong expanded his office last year to include a new special counsel position to lead efforts to defend abortion rights.

In April, Tong was among a coalition of attorneys general to challenge the FDA’s regulation of the drug as too restrictive in a related case before the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington.

“This is precisely what we feared and why we went on offense and filed our own case in the Eastern District of Washington, which continues to protect access to medication abortion here in Connecticut,” Tong said Wednesday. “And we will continue to fight alongside women, patients, and providers when this case is heard by the Supreme Court. We will not let extremist politicians micromanage our healthcare decisions.”