In a significant development regarding abortion rights, three conservative appeals court judges have been assigned to hear arguments on the fate of mifepristone, a widely used abortion drug. These judges, known for their support of restrictions on abortion, will determine whether the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone should be rolled back and if the drug should remain accessible.
The upcoming appellate hearing follows a recent ruling by a federal judge in Texas, who ordered a hold on the federal approval of mifepristone, going against decades of scientific approval. Pending appeal, his decision was temporarily stayed. The case has now been assigned to a panel comprising Jennifer Walker Elrod, James Ho, and Cory Wilson from the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It is important to note that the judges’ ruling will not have an immediate impact and is likely to face further appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Let’s take a closer look at the backgrounds and track records of these judges:
Jennifer Walker Elrod: Appointed to the court in 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush, Elrod has been involved in several significant cases regarding abortion restrictions. She was among the judges who temporarily allowed Texas to ban abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she co-authored an opinion upholding a Texas law that prohibited a common abortion method used in second-trimester pregnancies. Elrod has consistently favored decisions upholding laws requiring admitting privileges for doctors at abortion clinics, a move criticized by abortion rights advocates. She has also played a prominent role in regulatory decisions within the 5th Circuit.
James Ho: Ho, the first Asian-American to serve on the 5th Circuit, was nominated by Republican President Donald Trump in 2017. A former Texas solicitor general and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ho has been vocal about his opposition to abortion. He referred to abortion as a “moral tragedy” in a 2018 opinion and stated that the Constitution does not establish a right to an abortion. In a ruling on a Mississippi abortion ban, he criticized the court for not considering arguments related to fetal pain and condemned the history of abortion advocacy as part of the eugenics movement. This opinion ultimately influenced the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Cory Wilson: Nominated by Trump in 2020, Wilson is a former Mississippi appeals court judge with a strong anti-abortion record. During his time in the Mississippi House, he expressed support for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade. He voted in favor of anti-abortion measures, including one that aimed to stop Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood facilities in Mississippi. Wilson also supported the Mississippi law that led to the eventual downfall of Roe v. Wade by prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks. He has previously joined Elrod and Ho in upholding Texas’ ban on a common second-trimester abortion method.
As these judges prepare to hear the federal mifepristone appeal, reproductive rights advocates are expressing concerns about the potential implications for abortion access. The outcome of this case will undoubtedly have significant ramifications for reproductive healthcare, and its impact will likely extend beyond the jurisdiction of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.