The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday lifted a major restriction requiring women to obtain abortion pills in person, The New York Times reports.
The FDA has long required women to see a specially certified health provider to receive abortion pills but lifted that requirement amid the Covid pandemic. On Thursday, the FDA permanently lifted the restriction, allowing women to obtain abortion pills through the mail.
Women will now be able to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe the pills.
The decision came as the Supreme Court is considering whether to roll back or even overturn its precedent making abortion legal nationwide through 24 weeks.
Medication abortion is limited for pregnancies up to 10 weeks gestation.
The FDA did not issue a statement on Thursday but updated its website to reflect the new guidance and sent letters to companies that make mifepristone, which makes one of the two drugs used in medication abortion, and medical groups who sued over the requirement.
“The agency conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature, relevant safety and adverse event data, and information provided by advocacy groups, individuals and the applicants to reach this decision,” an FDA spokeswoman said.
The new guidance comes as red and blue states increasingly split on their policies around medication abortion.
Nineteen states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have banned telemedicine visits for medication abortion and more Republican-led states are expected to follow.
Left-leaning states like California and New York have instead focused on expanding access to medication abortion.
“It’s really significant,” Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University, told the Times. “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.”
Anti-abortion groups decried the decision.
“The Biden administration today moved to weaken longstanding federal safety regulations against mail-order abortion drugs designed to protect women from serious health risks and potential abuse,” the group Susan B. Anthony List said in a statement. “The Biden administration policy allows for dangerous at-home, do-it-yourself abortions without necessary medical oversight.”
Decision comes ahead of abortion ruling:
With the Supreme Court likely to roll back abortion rights, abortion medication may end up being some women’s only hope.
“There’s going to be plenty of people who try to use them in states where they’re illegal without traveling out of state, legal ramifications aside,” said Ziegler, adding that efforts could include clearinghouses that may try to allow “fudging where people’s addresses are to receive it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that 42% of abortions occurred with medication.
In some states, medication abortions accounted for a majority of pregnancy terminations.
The CDC reported that 79% of all abortions occurred before 10 weeks.