The Food and Drug Administration will permanently allow people to receive medication abortion pills through mail rather than being mandated to get them in person.
The Thursday announcement upholds a decision from April to temporarily suspend federal requirements that had previously required in-person dispensing of abortion pills from a clinic, hospital or medical office.
The more lax policy has opened up the door for health practices across the country to provide medication abortion through telemedicine, which removes some barriers for abortion seekers, including travel distance.
The abortion pill mifepristone has been approved by the FDA since 2000, but typically faces special restrictions for dispensing the pills. According to the FDA website:
“Mifeprex must be ordered, prescribed and dispensed by or under the supervision of a healthcare provider who prescribes and who meets certain qualifications; Healthcare providers who wish to prescribe Mifeprex must complete a Prescriber Agreement Form prior to ordering and dispensing Mifeprex; Mifeprex may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider; The healthcare provider must obtain a signed Patient Agreement Form before dispensing Mifeprex.”
But a number of advocacy groups, legal and medical experts say such restrictions are outdated. “The fact that health-care providers must not only become certified to prescribe the drug, but also dispense it themselves, imposes logistical barriers that make it impractical for the average provider to offer early abortion care,” Greer Donley, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, wrote for the The Atlantic.
Additionally, medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Family Physicians claim the FDA restrictions are not medically necessary and limit access to abortion.
Like surgical abortion procedures, medical abortion policies have faced mounting limitations from states legislatures. Thirty-two states require clinicians who administer medication abortion to be physicians, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. Two states prohibit the use of medication abortion at a specific point in pregnancy. Nineteen states require the clinician to be physically present when the abortion medication is administered. Other state laws heavily regulating surgical abortions have forced clinics to close around the country and increased travel time to the nearest providers by hundreds of miles in some cases.
In July 2020, a federal judge ruled in favor of reproductive rights groups who sued to allow the FDA’s in-person rule to be lifted for medical abortion. The Trump administration challenged the ruling before the Supreme Court, which reinstated the requirement in January of this year before the Biden administration stepped in to once again allow abortion medication by mail.