The US Supreme Court battle over abortion pills could have ripple effects well beyond the country’s borders, campaigners warn.
While a political and legal battle rages in the United States over access to abortion pills, pharmacies in France have recently been facing a shortage of misoprostol, a commonly used abortion drug.
Medication abortion, which accounts for more than half of all abortions in the US and 70 per cent of them in France, typically involves two drugs: mifepristone, which blocks progesterone and ends the pregnancy, and misoprostol, which triggers contractions. The two-drug combination is also used to treat miscarriages.
Both drugs have lately been in the spotlight in the US, where the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on Friday on a lower court’s ruling that federal regulators’ approval of mifepristone in 2000 was flawed and should be revoked.
Several Democratic states have since been reportedly stockpiling abortion pills to preserve access to them in the event that the Supreme Court again rolls back on reproductive rights. The new controversy comes less than a year after the Court’s conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade, scrapping the constitutional right to abortion and allowing more than a dozen states to effectively ban abortion outright.
The situation in the US could have ripple effects well beyond the country’s borders, warn French rights campaigners.
"The American situation raises the threat of a shortage linked to stockpiling by US states seeking to make up for a possible halt in the production and/or marketing of mifepristone and misoprostol," France's High Council for gender equality said this week, noting that another risk was a sharp increase in prices.
Misoprostol was out of stock in pharmacies across several French regions in recent days, though it remained available in hospitals and planned parenthood centres. France allows drug-induced abortion during the first seven weeks of pregnancy.
The tight supplies were reported in several pharmacies in the Northern region and in the Paris area. France’s Planned Parenthood told Euronews Next its own stocks did not particularly fluctuate, as it doesn’t deal with intermediaries.
The French medicines agency ANSM said on its website that supplies of the MisoOne misoprostol pill manufactured by Nordic Pharma were very strained, that exports of the abortion pills out of France were now banned and that authorities were importing misoprostol pills from Italy to tackle the risk of a shortage.
Contacted by Euronews Next, a spokesperson for Nordic Pharma declined to answer questions about the reasons for the tight supplies but said that these should be resolved “in the coming days” and that they were not linked to the legal battle underway in the US. No shortage of misoprostol is to be feared in France, the company added.
It is not an isolated problem. Europe has experienced shortages or supply squeezes on all kinds of drugs in the last few years. The latest affected paracetamol and amoxicillin in the UK and France this winter.
The cause: a global supply chain that can be paralysed very quickly even if just one component encounters production problems.
Canada faced similar challenges with supply-chain tensions creating supplier shortages in December 2022 and February 2023. A doctor from Vancouver told CBC News that she had to perform surgical abortions instead of drug-induced ones.
In both countries, abortion pills are manufactured by a single supplier - Linepharma in Canada and Nordic Pharma in France, a largely US-owned company.
Sarah Durocher, the president of Planned Parenthood in France, told Euronews Next that the issue was to rely on one private supplier instead of having a national production for "critical" molecules like these.
“It is crucial for women's rights that governments ensure that all products and drugs needed for abortion are always available,” the country's High Council for gender equality said.
On International Women's Day (March 8), President Emmanuel Macron promised he would soon present a law enshrining the right to abortion in the constitution.