The Biden government has decided to allow women to receive abortion pills in the mail for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the latest development in a subject that is increasingly at the fore in the American abortion debate.
In a letter sent Monday to two leading organizations representing reproductive health doctors, the Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration stated that the agency is calling for the first of two drugs to be used to terminate an early pregnancy will be temporarily handed over to a doctor, temporarily discontinued at the clinic.
The new directive contradicts a Supreme Court ruling in January that sided with the Trump administration, which appealed a federal judge’s decision to suspend the requirement last July. The judge had argued that the requirement put women at risk during the pandemic because they would have to visit clinics in person and often have to travel significant distances to do so.
Drug abortion, first approved by the FDA in 2000, is increasingly becoming the preferred method for women to terminate a pregnancy. According to 2017 estimates, about 60 percent of abortion patients who were early enough in pregnancy to be eligible – 10 weeks pregnant or less – opted for drug discontinuation rather than suction or surgery.
However, the FDA requires that the first drug in the two-drug regimen, mifepristone, be dispensed by specially certified doctors or other medical providers in clinics or hospitals. For years, reproductive health experts have been pushing for the requirement to be lifted as there are no major safety reasons for handing in a pill that women are legally allowed to take in-person in any location, and the restriction is the greatest burden on low-income women and women for women in areas with limited access to abortion providers.
With FDA approval, researchers have been conducting a study for several years in which women seeking abortions receive telemedicine consultations and email them the pills. Their research has found the approach to be safe and effective.
April 13, 2021, 10:49 p.m. ET
In the past few months, additional data has been gathered from pandemic women’s experiences receiving abortion pills in the mail after the judge lifted the restriction and before the Supreme Court reinstated it.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, wrote in her letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine that studies of the pandemic experience “do not appear to show an increase in serious safety concerns,” such as bleeding , Ectopic pregnancies, or the need for surgical interventions “that occur in the event of a medical abortion if the hand-over requirements are changed during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Anti-abortion groups opposed the decision. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement that allowing drug abortion appointments via telemedicine was “a major threat” to women’s safety.
Medical and reproductive health organizations that sent a letter to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in March urging the FDA to lift restrictions during the pandemic welcomed the decision.
“Mifepristone itself has shown it to be a safe and effective drug in both clinical trials and decades of use,” the president and executive director of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement. “Delivering the drug in person and then taking it at the discretion of the patient is arbitrary and does not contribute to the safety of an already safe drug.”