As states like Arkansas and South Carolina ramp up efforts to take away women’s rights and limit access to birth control and abortions, an unlikely alley has emerged in the fight to preserve the right to choose: the U.S. Postal Service. On April 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that women will be able to receive abortion pills through the mail.
According to the announcement, women seeking an abortion pill will no longer have to visit a doctor’s office or clinic in person again. Instead, the FDA is now allowing women to get a prescription for the drug through a telemedicine visit with a doctor’s office and then have the medication delivered to their home.
Matthew Perrone of The Associated Press has reported that the FDA decision is “the latest reversal in an ongoing legal battle over the medication.” In a letter sent to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the FDA’s acting head, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said an agency review of recent studies “‘does not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns,’ when women take the pill without first visiting a health facility and discussing the drug’s potential risks, including internal bleeding.”
Because of this agency review, the agency would temporarily eliminate the required visit to a medical clinic before receiving the medications needed to terminate an early pregnancy.
According to Perrone, “Medication abortion has been available in the United States since 2000 when the FDA approved the use of mifepristone. Taken with a hormone blocker called misoprostol, it constitutes the so-called abortion pill. About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are now done through medication — rather than surgery — and that option has become more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In early 2020, when the pandemic began, the FDA waived in-person requirements for virtually all medications in an effort to keep people at home and socially distanced. However, getting a number of more serious medications, including mifepristone, still required a visit to a healthcare provider because patients had to sign a form confirming they were aware of the potential medical risks.
The FDA’s latest announcement overrides that rule, allowing the medication to be mailed out now instead of being picked up in person.
Women’s rights advocates have cheered the FDA’s decision — while Republicans are predictably outraged and doing everything they can to override the ruling.
“They’re trying as hard as they can to restrict access to the pills now because they know they won’t be able, later, to un-ring the bell,” Mary Ziegler, a professor at the Florida State University College of Law who studies abortion, told Politico in March 2020.
“It takes the fight out of the clinic setting into individual people’s homes,” said Alina Salganicoff, Director of Women’s Health Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation (Kaiser Permanente is a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company). “That becomes much more difficult to regulate and could potentially broaden access.”
Alice Miranda Ollstein and Darius Tahir of Politico have reported that “demand for abortion pills has soared as conservative states have moved aggressively in recent years to restrict access to surgical abortions. In 2001, the drugs were used in just 5% of abortions in the U.S. By 2017, that jumped to 39%, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.”
“Mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication,” Eva Chalas, President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement. “Requiring the medicine to be dispensed in person, then taken elsewhere at the patients’ discretion, is arbitrary and does nothing to bolster the safety of an already-safe medicine.”