The US Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to rule on restrictions imposed by a lower court on a widely used abortion pill in the latest skirmish in the battle over reproductive rights in the United States.
The lower court ruling has been on hold pending a decision by the nation’s top court on whether it would hear the case.
The Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in the closely watched case next year and is expected to issue a decision by the end of June.
A conservative-dominated federal appeals court imposed restrictions in August on the use of mifepristone, which accounts for more than half of the abortions in the United States.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals would limit use of mifepristone to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, instead of 10, and block it from being distributed by mail.
It would also require the abortion pill to be prescribed by a doctor.
Anti-abortion groups are seeking to have mifepristone banned, claiming despite its long track record that it is unsafe.
At a hearing in May, the three judges pushed back against government arguments that the decision on whether to allow the use of mifepristone should be left to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approved the drug more than 20 years ago.
The case stems from a ruling by a conservative US District Court judge in Texas that would have banned mifepristone.
The 5th Circuit Court blocked a ban on the abortion pill, but imposed restrictions on access, after which the baton was handed to the Supreme Court, where conservatives wield a 6-3 majority.
The Supreme Court temporarily preserved access to mifepristone, freezing the rulings by the lower courts, and the drug remains on the market for the time being.
It is the most significant abortion case to reach the nine-member Supreme Court since it overturned the constitutional right to the procedure in June of last year.
Mifepristone is one component of a two-drug regimen that can be used through the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
It has a long safety record, and the FDA estimates 5.6 million Americans have used it to terminate pregnancies since it was approved in 2000.