The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday permanently lifted 20-year-old restrictions against home delivery and telehealth prescription of a set of pills to terminate a pregnancy, saying a review of the abortion pill's safety did not warrant the extra rules. The FDA has allowed telehealth consultations and mail delivery of the drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, since April under a special pandemic dispensation.
The FDA imposed the requirement that women obtain the two pills only after an in-person consultation at a limited number of specialty clinics and doctor's offices when it approved mifepristone in 2000. It lifted them in response to a 2017 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. Proponents of abortion rights said the FDA acted just in time.
"With Roe v. Wade hanging by a thread, it is especially urgent that the federal government do everything in its power to expand access to this medication," said ACLU staff attorney Julia Kaye. The ACLU applauded the FDA but said it should have ended the other extra restrictions on the pills. Doctors who prescribe mifepristone still have to undergo certification and training, and dispensing pharmacies need to be certified.
The American Medical Association and other medical groups have called for the restrictions to be lifted since a 2017 study from Canada found medication abortions equally safe without in-person consultation. Abortion opponents said the lifting of the in-person requirement could adversely affect some women.
The FDA's easing of restrictions will have no practical effect in the more than dozen states, mostly in the South and Midwest, that have banned in-person delivery or telehealth prescription of the abortion pills.
Still, "increased use of mail-order abortion pills could pose a dilemma for the anti-abortion movement, given that its leaders generally say they don't favor criminalizing the actions of women seeking abortions and because mail deliveries can be an elusive target for prosecutors," The Associated Press reports.
Abigail Aiken, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said she's often asked whether the country is headed to "back-alley abortions and infections" without Roe v. Wade. "One of the things we have that we didn't have in the '60s and '70s is access to abortion pills that are very safe, very effective if you have the right instructions," she told The Washington Post. They also let you "take your health care into your own hands when the state legislature is trying to block access."