Health Care

FDA Lifts Restrictions on Abortion Pill amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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The Biden administration on Monday announced it will rescind rules requiring people to obtain abortion drugs in-person amid the coronavirus pandemic, reversing a Trump administration policy that the Supreme Court reinstituted in January.

In a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on Monday, 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 decision comes amid a months-long fight over FDA 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.

The in-person requirement was initially suspended by a federal judge in July in response to a lawsuit by ACOG.

However, the Trump administration appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. Though the high court first declined to intervene in October, it voted 6-3 in January to reinstitute the restrictions.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration asked an appeals court for additional time to respond to ACOG’s lawsuit. It suggested then that the FDA could decide to “exercise its enforcement discretion.”

The FDA’s latest decision applies only to the pandemic and does not detail how the rules will be enforced after it has subsided.

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

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, rebuked the decision in a statement, saying the Biden administration “has made it clear that it will prioritize abortion over women’s safety.”

She suggested allowing unsupervised chemical abortions via telemedicine “without requiring timely access to medical women will put women in grave danger.” 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.

ACOG’s Chief Executive Officer Maureen G. Phipps said Monday that loosening the restrictions means “those in need of an abortion or miscarriage management will be able to do so safety and effectively by acquiring mifepristone though the mail — just as they would any other medication with a similarly strong safety profile,” according to Politico.

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.

In Ohio, a new ban on telemedicine abortions was set to take effect on Monday but was blocked by a state court. Similar policies are advancing in Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and West Virginia.

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