The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday that it will change its policy regarding the access of abortion pills through the use of telemedicine.
In the latest development of a continuing legal debate over the use of telemedicine for chemical abortion, the FDA sent a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) announcing its decision to allow abortion pills to be sent through the mail and prescribed via telemedicine during the COVID-19 health emergency.
The acting commissioner of Food and Drugs at the agency, Janet Woodcock, wrote that based on review of certain studies regarding the adjusted use of the abortion pills, “the overall findings from these studies do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns (such as hemorrhage, ectopic pregnancy, or surgical interventions) occurring with medical abortion as a result of modifying the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter confirmed that the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research plans to “exercise enforcement discretion” during the COVID-19 public health emergency regarding the in-person dispensing requirement of the chemical abortion medication, as well as the dispensing of the drugs through the mail.
In a tweet, ACOG Action explained the letter, writing, “This means that many patients in need of termination of early pregnancy will be able to access safe, effective mifepristone by mail, rather than having to risk avoidable COVID exposure to themselves and their clinicians.”
This means that many patients in need of termination of early pregnancy will be able to access safe, effective mifepristone by mail, rather than having to risk avoidable COVID exposure to themselves and their clinicians. 2/
— ACOG Action (@ACOGAction) April 13, 2021
ACOG released a statement regarding the decision, writing:
“ACOG has for years advocated for the FDA to remove the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, given that there is no safety reason for the restrictions and that the restrictions were more burdensome than those placed on medications with similar safety profiles, or even those with greater risks. Moreover, mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication. 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.
The advocacy group’s statement concludes, “We are pleased to see mifepristone regulated on the basis of the scientific evidence during the pandemic, rather than political bias against comprehensive reproductive health care, and we look forward to working with policy makers to ensure this principle governs post-pandemic care.”
The Supreme Court ruled in January that abortion pills were no longer allowed to be sent through the mail after such restrictions had been lifted during the pandemic, siding with an appeal by the Trump administration. This meant that women were required to go to a location to receive the drugs to induce an abortion. However, the new FDA policy looks to change the requirement once again.
Republican-controlled state legislatures have recently pushed to prohibit the access of abortion pills through telemedicine. The Daily Wire reported that Montana passed a bill that would require a medical practitioner to examine a woman before giving her abortion pills.
State Rep. Sharon Greef (R) is the sponsor of the Montana bill and has said that medication abortions are “the Wild West of the abortion industry” and that the medication should be done under close watch of medical personnel, “not as part of a do-it-yourself abortion far from a clinic or hospital,” the AP reported.
Ohio also sought a ban on the use of telemedicine for chemical abortions, but it was halted by a judge before taking effect last week.
The new policy change by the FDA is only in effect during the COVID-19 health emergency. However, ACOG and others are seeking to make the change permanent.