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Biden Administration Permanently Lifts Restrictions on Abortion Pills

The FDA headquarters in White Oak, Md., August 29, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Biden administration on Thursday permanently rescinded rules requiring women to obtain abortion drugs in-person, allowing patients to receive pills by mail instead of via specially certified health providers in-person.

The FDA’s decision comes after it first announced it would temporarily suspend the rules in April for the duration of the pandemic, reversing a Trump administration policy that the Supreme Court reinstituted in January.

In a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in April, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said the agency found that allowing patients to receive chemical abortion pills via telemedicine and in the mail would not increase risks and would help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The FDA’s decision is the latest step in a months-long fight over rules for obtaining mifepristone — one of two drugs used in chemical abortions, the most common method of abortion used in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. By 2017, abortion drugs accounted for 39 percent of abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

ACOG, the American Medical Association, congressional Democrats and other groups had called on the agency to permanently lift the restrictions. 

Pro-life lawmakers and advocacy groups had been preparing for the FDA’s decision and have proactively worked to ban the pills or make them more difficult to obtain.

Telemedicine visits for chemical abortion are banned in 19 states, according to the New York Times, most of which are in the South and Midwest. Six states banned the pills this year alone, while seven states passed laws requiring pills to be obtained in person from a provider. Four states passed laws to limit chemical abortion to earlier than 10 weeks’ gestation, the report says.

Currently, women who live in states with restrictions on the use of telemedicine for abortion must travel to a state that does, though they are not required to visit a clinic. They may receive the pills at any address in the state. However, abortion advocates are expected to push for ways to make the pills available to patients without travel. Legal experts say advocates are likely to file legal challenges to state laws banning telemedicine for abortion.

The state policy director for Susan B. Anthony List, Sue Liebel, condemned the FDA’s decision on Thursday.

“The Biden administration’s reckless move puts countless women and unborn children in danger,” she said in a statement. “Abortion activists’ longtime wish has been to turn every post office and pharmacy into an abortion center. They promote abortion drugs as easy, painless and private. Science says otherwise. Women who take chemical abortion pills are significantly more at risk of serious complications and more likely to require a visit to the emergency room. Some women even die.”

“Already-exhausted ER doctors and nurses will be forced to ‘clean up after’ an abortion industry that puts profits before safety and won’t regulate itself – all to please Biden’s radical base and pay back political allies,” she added.

However, while the FDA released data in 2018 showing thousands of women had experienced adverse events after taking abortion pills, including 768 hospitalizations and 24 deaths since 2000, the FDA says the events “cannot with certainty be causally attributed” to the drugs.

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