A Nobel Prize, the Supreme Court, and Reproductive Rights

4 min read

Today, science and psychology are coming together in an extraordinary way. Harvard University’s Claudia Goldin has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for her decades-long work on understanding women’s labor-force participation, especially the persistent gender gap in earnings worldwide. Prior to her research, the predominant explanation for the gender gap was women’s educational and career choices. If women were less likely than men to go to college and more likely than men to choose low-paying careers, then the gender gap was a reflection of those choices.

Goldin asked whether the gender pay gap persisted even between men and women who had made identical career choices. To answer this question, she analyzed 200 years of U.S. data. Her analyses refuted previous explanations. In contrast to those explanations, women’s relative earnings decline begins after the birth of her first child. Thus, the timing and number of children a woman has will have lifelong effects on her earnings, savings, and retirement options.

Goldin’s work may influence the way many Americans feel about abortion, broadening support for women who need and want to work. Will it? It depends on how people perceive Roe v. Wade.

When a woman decides to carry a pregnancy to term is an issue currently being litigated by the Supreme Court. Its new term just started and one of the most anticipated cases has to do with access to the abortion drug mifepristone.

In the wake of the decision to overturn Roe, “Numerous cases attempting to further restrict women’s access to abortion care have been filed,” reports CNBC. One such example is the mifepristone case. “Mifepristone, used in combination with another drug called misoprostol, is the most common method to terminate a pregnancy in the U.S.”

So far, the litigation over the drug has had many twists and turns, with more to come. In the states, a confusing tangle of regulations apply.

The Texas Tribune, which followed the story closely, noted, “A lawsuit over mifepristone was filed in Amarillo, Texas, late last year. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, represented the pill’s opponents, who say the FDA’s approval of mifepristone was flawed.”

Medication abortion is the most common way Americans terminate their pregnancies. Mifepristone, when taken alongside misoprostol, has been proven to be safe and effective and is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk heard the case. “He ordered a hold on federal approval of mifepristone in a decision that overruled decades of scientific approval. This abortion-inducing drug that has been on the market for more than 20 years,” per the Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune quoted Greer Donley, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies FDA law: “A judge who has no scientific expertise, overruling the agency that has a ton of scientific expertise. This is the first time a judge has unilaterally, against the FDA’s objections, removed a drug from the market.”

The Justice Department appealed Kacsmaryk’s decision to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It did not get the ruling it wanted.

“A three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit [all Republicans, two appointed by Trump] ruled that decisions the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took in recent years to make mifepristone more accessible to women failed to address safety concerns.”

The Biden administration took the fight to preserve broad access to mifepristone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the high court refuses to hear the appeal from the Justice Department, the ruling from the 5th Circuit Court will stand. The Supreme Court’s new term started this month. Four justices have to agree to take up the abortion pill case.

Will the court take into account Claudia Goldin’s research? Or will the Nobel Prize winner’s writings just drift away in the wind? Do women want judges to second guess the opinions of scientists on which drugs are safe for them to ingest? The case is an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the FDA to approve medications.

Everything is on hold until the Supreme Court issues its decision, which will have a major impact on the lives of U.S. women.

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