Judge frees abortion pill from doctor visits (for now). A federal court ruled Monday that women seeking abortion pills during the COVID-19 pandemic should not have to visit a doctor in order to obtain them.
Under current rules set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), non-surgical abortion— i.e., the kind that’s induced by pharmaceuticals, not physicians—still requires patients to visit a hospital, doctor’s office, or medical clinic to be prescribed the abortion drugs, even though a patient will go through the process at home.
“A medical or medication abortion uses two drugs to terminate a pregnancy,” explains a new report, “Prescription Denied: Accessing the Abortion Pill,” from Newsy. The first of these pills, mifepristone, “blocks a hormone to induce the abortion. The second drug, misoprostol, completes it by expelling the pregnancy. But mifepristone, which for medication abortion goes by the brand name Mifeprex, is among the most restricted drugs in the U.S. which makes it challenging to get. … the Food and Drug Administration imposes tighter restrictions on Mifeprex than on opioids such as fentanyl.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), and other groups have been pushing the FDA to revise its rules so that abortion patients can see doctors via telemedical appointments and then receive their pills in the mail.
“If the laws and regulations that determine the terms of abortion access in the United States were based on science—not politics—medication abortion would be widely available in the United States without medically unnecessary restrictions on distribution,” states an open letter signed by a range of physicians and health and advocacy groups.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang seemed to be in agreement with these advocates and doctors, writing in his decision that “in-person requirements” for abortion pills present a “substantial obstacle” to patients and are likely unconstitutional.
The judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the FDA’s rules on mifepristone for abortions until at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to our current public health emergency.
“We look forward to a day when federal reproductive health care policy is grounded in science, not animus, and this medically baseless requirement is lifted once and for all,” said Julia Kaye, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement.