A federal court ruled on Monday, July 13, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must suspend a rule requiring that patients seeking medication abortion—a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol—must pick it up from their abortion care provider. Instead, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the drugs may now be mailed to patients. This is a huge victory: over 40% of all abortions are performed at home using these drugs and under the previous rule, some patients were having to drive hundreds of miles just to obtain these medications that they swallowed in their homes.
This ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of a coalition of reproductive rights advocates and medical experts, including more than 60,000 OB-GYNs. The FDA was also under increasing pressure to change these rules by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Patty Murray (WA), and Tammy Baldwin (WI). In April, they sent a letter urging the FDA to allow patients to receive the medications without having to physically enter the health care facility. A similar letter was sent by a number of state attorneys general at the end of March.
Theodore Chuang, the U.S. District Judge who delivered the ruling, wrote “The In-Person Requirements, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a medication abortion and that may delay or preclude a medication abortion and thus may necessitate a more invasive procedure. Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm.” The ruling will take effect this week, and the suspension will last until at least 30 days after the end of the federal government’s declared public health emergency. Beyond the pandemic, leading medical groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have advised the FDA to ease restrictions on the drug, making it available in retail pharmacies. Since the drug’s approval in 2000, about three million women in the U.S. have used it, and a 2019 study found that people who received the drug by mail had similar outcomes as those who received it in a doctor’s office.
Blog by Emma Rose Lowder, NOW Government Relations Assistant