Judge refuses to reinstate rule for dispensing abortion pill

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azarspeaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington. A federal judge in Maryland has denied the Trump administration's request to reinstate a rule that would require women to visit a hospital, clinic or medical office to obtain an abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that public health risks for patients only have grown worse. In March, dozens of anti-abortion advocates signed a letter to Azar in which they called for halting abortion procedures during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azarspeaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington. A federal judge in Maryland has denied the Trump administration's request to reinstate a rule that would require women to visit a hospital, clinic or medical office to obtain an abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that public health risks for patients only have grown worse. In March, dozens of anti-abortion advocates signed a letter to Azar in which they called for halting abortion procedures during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A federal judge in Maryland has denied the Trump administration's request to reinstate a rule that would require women to visit a hospital, clinic or medical office to obtain an abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that public health risks for patients only have grown worse.

U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang, who agreed to suspend the rule in July, refused Wednesday to lift or limit the scope of that order. He rejected the administration's argument that economic conditions and patients' access to medical facilities, childcare and transportation have improved sufficiently to warrant dissolving the preliminary injunction.

Infection and hospitalization rates are soaring across the U.S., and the nation is going through what the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has deemed the “most deadly phase of the pandemic," the judge noted.

“Accordingly, while the progress on vaccines and medical treatments for COVID-19 are cause for optimism and may advance the day that the Preliminary Injunction will no longer be warranted, the impact of these advances to date has not meaningfully altered the current health risks and obstacles to women seeking medication abortions,” Chuang wrote.

The judge also said the Trump administration has not presented any evidence that its temporary inability to enforce the rule has caused any harm to the government or to patients.

Chuang’s order in July temporarily prohibits the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from enforcing the “in-person requirements” for dispensing the drug mifepristone during the pandemic. The judge concluded that the rule imposes a “substantial obstacle” to abortion patients and likely is unconstitutional under the pandemic's circumstances.

Justice Department attorneys appealed Chuang's July 13 order. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could present a request to dissolve or modify the injunction based on new evidence and directed Chuang to rule on it within 40 days. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of Chuang's decision.

Chuang didn’t set any geographic limitations on the injunction. He refused Wednesday to reconsider the national scope of his decision, saying the pandemic’s conditions are “uniformly dire across the nation.”