‘Telehealth abortions are much easier’: FDA rolls back rules on allowing abortion pills to be sent via mail

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The Biden administration may be attempting to make good on a pledge to preserve women’s access to abortion in any manner possible following indications from the U.S. Supreme Court that changes may be coming to the historic 1973  Roe v. Wade decision that authorized the procedure in all 50 states.

Roughly two weeks after the high court heard oral arguments in a case involving a Mississippi law that essentially challenges Roe, the Food and Drug Administration has announced it is rolling back restrictions on sending abortion pills through the mail.

On Thursday, the FDA permanently lifted restrictions on prescribers sending mifepristone, the first in a two-drug therapy that terminates pregnancies up to 10 weeks, through the mail.

Previously, FDA regulations required the pill to only be dispersed in clinics or hospitals by providers who were specifically certified to do so. Providers were also required to sign an agreement and to obtain the patient’s signature acknowledging that the provider had given them all pertinent information regarding the drug, DailyMail.com reported.

Misoprostol, which is the second drug in the treatment protocol and is taken up to 48 hours after the first one, has been available via prescription at any pharmacy for years, however.

But Thursday’s FDA rule change makes the initial medication much more accessible for women while also allowing them to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who is licensed to prescribe both pills and can now send them via the Post Office.

Still, under current rules, women who reside in states that don’t allow abortion pills to be prescribed via telemedicine have to travel to a state that does allow it. They can be anywhere in the allowing state and have the pills sent to any address.

The FDA’s rule change won’t affect laws in 19 states that do not permit abortion pills to be prescribed via telemedicine, DailyMail.com reported.

“It’s really significant,” said Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler told The New York Times Thursday in response to the FDA’s rule change.

“Telehealth abortions are much easier for both providers and patients, and even in states that want to do it, there have been limits on how available it is,” she added.

The Times noted further that a number of states, in anticipation of the FDA’s decision, banned the mailing of pills this year, while others passed laws requiring that the pills be obtained from a licensed provider.

Four states have set limits on abortion via pill earlier than 10 weeks gestation, the timeframe for taking mifepristone, the first pill in the regimen.

For years, abortion rights organizations have pressed the federal government to ease back on restrictions regarding mifepristone, arguing that it is a safe and effective alternative to an in-clinic procedure.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, some medical groups filed a lawsuit to bar the in-person requirement for the pills to be dispensed, claiming that it was more dangerous than the telemedicine option.

Initially, a federal judge sided with the plaintiffs but that ruling was overturned after the Trump administration challenged it.

In March following President Biden’s inauguration a few months earlier, medical groups tried again to have the rule overturned; in April, the FDA announced it would not enforce the mandate during the pandemic.

Thursday’s decision makes the rule change permanent and official.

“Abortion is time-sensitive, essential health care and this decision will remove a sometimes insurmountable barrier for patients seeking an abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s No. 1 abortion provider, in response to the FDA’s decision.

“With abortion rights at risk like never before, the FDA’s decision is a long overdue step toward expanding people’s access to safe medication abortion,” she added.

Jon Dougherty

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