FFRF applauds the Biden administration’s decision to lift a Trump-era policy requiring abortion pills to be dispensed in person during the pandemic. FFRF is also cheering the tandem announcement that the administration is beginning to undo another Trump-era directive that directly forced Planned Parenthood out of the federal family planning program.
Planned Parenthood’s exit was compelled by a Trump rule barring eligibility to clinics that offered abortion referral and education or that were not physically and financially separated from abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood formerly served about 40 percent of low-income patients covered by Title X, the federal family planning program that also provides basic health care screenings. The Trump change is estimated by Health and Human Services to have led to up to 180,000 unintended pregnancies.
HHS’ proposed rule to restore the program, unfortunately, is expected to take months.
Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock announced late Monday that the agency could “exercise enforcement discretion” on use of mifepristone to terminate pregnancies. This means that women in some states will now be able to receive their medication for an abortion via telehealth or mail. During a pandemic that has cost over 563,000 lives, this new policy provides a much-needed safety measure to patients and providers alike.
FFRF has long called for the abolition of in-person requirements for abortion medication. These FDA regulations are not based in science but upon religious ideology. Mifepristone, a prescription medication used to safely terminate pregnancies, has been used by more than 3 million women in the United States for over 20 years. When combined with misoprostol, this method is 99.6 percent effective. Moreover, adverse reactions are extremely rare and far below the rates of commonly prescribed medications like Lipitor and Ritalin.
However, since the George W. Bush administration added mifepristone to the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy program in 2007, it has been extremely difficult to obtain mifepristone. Only 33 states allow physicians to provide abortion pills, and under the Trump policy, women typically had to make at least two in-person appointments to receive the medication before 10 weeks’ gestation. This created onerous barriers, adding extra loss of work, travel expenses, child care arrangements and expense, particularly punitive and risky during a pandemic. Above all, this is a burden that has hampered women’s constitutional right to abortion.
Simply put, abortion is health care. And the Biden administration’s reversal of this in-person requirement for mifepristone is an important step in the right direction. Yet, it should be noted that this change is currently only set for the duration for the pandemic. That means we must continue to champion accessible medication abortion in the future.