WASHINGTON (AP) - Women seeking an abortion pill will not need to see a doctor’s office or clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials said Tuesday in the latest reversal of an ongoing dispute over the drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration announced the policy change in a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of several medical groups that have complained about the restriction under the Trump administration.
The acting head of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock said a review by the agency of recent studies “does not appear to show an increase in serious safety concerns” when women take the pill,without first visiting a health facility and discussing the potential risks of the drug, including internal bleeding.
The change paves the way for women to receive and mail a prescription for the pill - mifepristone - via telemedicine. But anti-abortionists are pushing for laws in several Republican-led states that would prevent easier access.
drug discontinuation has been available in the US since 2000 when the FDA approved the use of mifepristone. Together with a hormone blocker called misoprostol, it forms what is known as the abortion pill. Approximately 40% of all abortions in the US are now performed through medication rather than surgery, and that option has become central during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the FDA waived personal requirements for virtually all drugs, including tightly controlled drugs like methadone, but the FDA and its maternal health agency argued that the rules were necessary to ensure the pills were used safely. According to this rule, patients must collect the individual tablet of mifepristone from a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office and sign a form that includes information about the potential risks of the drug.
The obstetricians and gynecologists group sued to break the rule and sparked a number of conflicting court decisions. Most recently, in January, the Supreme Court joined the Trump administration,to reintroduce the long-standing rule of taking the drug personally.
The Obstetricians' Group said in a statement Tuesday that the FDA’s turnaround on that requirement shows that “it is arbitrary and does nothing to improve the safety of an already safe drug.”
But anti-abortionists said the move would put women’s health at risk.
“With this move, the Biden government has made it clear that abortion will take precedence over women’s safety,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion group March for Life . “Chemical abortions should have more medical control, not less.”
FDA policy applies only during COVID-19 health emergency.The Obstetricians and Gynecologists Group, as well as several other medical organizations, are working to make abortion medication permanently available for prescription and mail order through online pharmacies.
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