The Biden administration on Thursday ended a long-standing restriction on a medication used to terminate early stage pregnancies, even as politicians across the United States intensified efforts that represent the most serious challenge to abortion rights in decades.
The elimination of the rule by the Food and Drug Administration means abortion pills can be prescribed through telehealth consultations with providers and mailed to patients in states where permitted by law. Previously, the pills could not be mailed, though that regulation had been temporarily suspended by the FDA.
Women can now terminate a pregnancy without leaving home by mail-ordering abortion pills, a new means of accessing abortion care that’s recently gained a footing in many states — including Illinois — as reproductive rights become increasingly under fire across large swaths of the country.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday eased long-standing medication abortion restrictions that once required clinicians to dispense the medicine in person, a historic decision lauded by reproductive rights activists and condemned by abortion opponents.
The medication, mifepristone, was approved by the FDA in 2000 for what’s known as medication abortion. It is used with a second drug, misoprostol. The FDA required patients to pick up mifepristone in person at a hospital, clinic or medical office. There is no FDA requirement that the medication, also known as RU-486, be taken in a clinical setting, and most patients take it at home.
In April, the FDA waived the in-person dispensing requirement during the pandemic, saying research showed the action did not raise “serious safety concerns.” It then launched a scientific review to see whether restrictions on mifepristone should be lifted permanently, with Thursday as the deadline.
The agency, writing to a medical group that had sued the FDA over the rule, said it was dropping the in-person dispensing requirement “to minimize the burden on the health care delivery system” and “to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.” The FDA did not give an effective date for the change.
The FDA left in place a requirement that prescribers register with the manufacturers, buy mifepristone ahead of time and dispense the medication themselves — something that requires extra work and, abortion rights advocates say, discourages some physicians from prescribing the drug. The agency also kept a requirement that patients sign an additional consent form when receiving the drug and that dispensing pharmacies be certified.