Over the weekend, Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed a bill that prevents physicians from prescribing medical-abortion drugs during a telemedicine visit. Instead, physicians are required to do so during an in-person visit, and women who obtain the chemical-abortion drugs must take the first of two pills in the presence of the physician. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than a dozen states already have such a policy on the books.
Chemical abortions have become the latest flashpoint in the abortion debate over the last year, as pro-abortion activists and abortion providers have lobbied the federal government to loosen restrictions on the medical-abortion pill during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last March, a coalition of Democratic attorneys general — led by California attorney general Xavier Becerra, now Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services — demanded that the Food & Drug Administration loosen its safety protocols for the chemical-abortion drug mifepristone.
The Democratic politicians insisted that FDA regulations requiring that pregnant women are handed the drug directly at a clinic, office, or hospital, under the supervision of a health-care professional “create unnecessary barriers between women and abortion care, not only making it harder to find . . . but also making it unappealing to prescribe.”
Last summer, a federal judge sympathized with their argument, nullifying the FDA safety requirement at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. He wrote in his decision that the lack of access to in-person appointments where women could obtain chemical-abortion drugs amounted to an unconstitutional limitation on women’s supposed right to an abortion.
Shortly thereafter, pro-life leaders urged the FDA to remove the chemical-abortion pill from the market altogether, citing safety concerns related to ingesting the drug at home and possibly without access to necessary follow-up care. They argued that the FDA should “classify the abortion pill as an ‘imminent hazard to the public health’ that poses a ‘significant threat of danger.’”
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this claim has some merit. Ingesting mifepristone puts pregnant women at risk of serious complications, many of which require follow-up care — the chief reason for the FDA safety regulations in the first place. Somewhere between 5 percent and 7 percent of women who obtain a chemical abortion require a follow-up surgical abortion. One survey found that more than 3 percent of women who underwent a medical abortion in the first trimester required emergency-room admission to manage complications.
These safety concerns have been intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, when access to follow-up care often has been limited. Ohio’s decision to enact its own policy to more closely regulate chemical abortions is especially needed in the absence of FDA safety protocols. It is a shame that politicians and activists who claim to value women’s health would place unlimited abortion access ahead of safety.