As political efforts to further restrict access to abortion reach across the nation—and to the US Supreme Court—the FDA has removed a barrier to obtaining abortion pills. The agency on Thursday made permanent a temporary lifting of a requirement that women pick up the medication to terminate early-stage pregnancies in person, the Washington Post reports. That decision will allow women to have the medication mailed to them, after it's prescribed through a telemedicine appointment with a provider, without having to travel—often to another state.
A medication abortion uses two drugs: mifepristone, which blocks progesterone, and misoprostol. The Food and Drug Administration left in place rules mandating that prescribers register with the manufacturers, buy mifepristone ahead of time and dispense the medication themselves. Patients will still have to sign an additional consent form. Advocates of abortion rights welcomed the FDA's action on the in-person rule but not its decision to keep other restrictions. Opponents of abortion rights said the FDA is putting women's safety at risk.
But states can still affect availability. By one advocate's count, per the New York Times, six states this year have prohibited mailing the pills, seven have required getting the pills in person from a provider, and four states limited medication abortions to sooner than 10 weeks’ gestation. A law professor nevertheless considers the FDA's announcement a milestone. "It's really significant,” said Mary Ziegler of Florida State University. "Telehealth abortions are much easier for both providers and patients." The FDA considers medication abortions safe and said mifepristone use is allowed in more than 60 other countries, at least 14 of them in Europe. (Read more abortion pill stories.)