AnalysisBreaking the Chains

FDA allows abortion pills by mail and through telehealth

In a major victory for women and all those needing abortions across the country, the FDA on Dec. 16 lifted a major restriction on the medication abortion drug mifepristone. Medication abortion is the termination of a pregnancy at or before 10 weeks using two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours apart. Because of the new FDA decision, patients will now be able to obtain mifepristone prescriptions through telemedicine appointments and to receive the medication by mail.

For decades, mifepristone has had unique restrictions imposed by the FDA, making it the only drug which is required to be obtained from a medical provider, in person, even though it does not need to be taken in the presence of a provider. The second drug, misoprostol, had no similar restrictions. There is strong medical consensus that mifepristone is safe for abortions and that these special restrictions do not make patients any safer. 

This new decision makes abortion more accessible for women living far away from abortion clinics. Due to decades-long right-wing attacks on abortion rights, women are having to travel increasingly long distances for an in-person abortion procedure. Yet, it is only thanks to the advocacy of the reproductive rights groups that sued to suspend the FDA restrictions, and the millions of women who make up the reproductive rights movement, that this newest victory has been won. The U.S. government, now led by the Democratic Party, has stood idle as states such as Texas and Mississippi virtually banned abortion and the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade

The FDA’s decision comes just one day after a new law took effect in Texas that adds penalties of jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone who prescribes pills for medication abortions through telehealth or sends abortions pills by mail. This means that women in Texas won’t be able to benefit from the lifting of the FDA restrictions, unless the pills are taken before seven weeks, which is before many women even know they are pregnant. However, the lifting of the restrictions on mifepristone may make it easier for women to access the pills illegally, in defiance of the Texas state law. Texas is not the only state to ban abortion pills prescribed via telemedicine. Nineteen states ban telehealth consultations or mailing of abortion pills. 

Abortion is a human right. We live in a capitalist system, where the government is run for the benefit of the few, rather than the millions of people who require abortions as medical care. As a result, all of our essential needs must be fought for, and all our victories, even the smallest ones, are in constant danger of being rolled back because of reactionary or opportunistic politicians. That’s why we are fighting for a socialist system, where regulations of medical procedures like abortion are decided based on patient health and autonomy, not the opinions of the few on the reactionary right. The FDA’s decision is a major step forward, but our movement will not rest until every woman has unencumbered access to free and safe abortions.

Feature image: Abortion pills by Robin Marty, CC BY SA 2.0

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