On Tuesday, the Biden administration lifted the ban on receiving the pills required for medication abortion through the mail. The reprieve only applies for the duration of the pandemic but is still a major victory for abortion rights advocates.
In a letter sent Monday, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said that the agency would stop enforcing the rule that requires patients to pick up the medication in person from a medical provider during the pandemic.
Citing four recent medical studies, Woodcock wrote that “these studies do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns… occurring with medical abortion as a result of modifying the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Professional medical organizations and reproductive health advocacy groups applauded the decision.
“Mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication,” said Maureen Phipps, the president and chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Requiring the medicine to be dispensed in person, then taken elsewhere at the patients’ discretion, is arbitrary and does nothing to bolster the safety of an already-safe medicine.”
The new measure contradicts a recent Supreme Court ruling which appealed a federal judge’s decision that suspended the ban. The judge ruled on the basis that the requirement endangered the health of pregnant people seeking medication abortion by requiring them to pick up the drug in person. Monday’s rule change overrides the Supreme Court ruling since it comes from the FDA itself and not a lower court.
Shortly after the pandemic began many heavily regulated medications such as methadone were given the green light to be dispensed through the mail. Abortion rights advocates used this to highlight the disparity in how mifepristone was regulated under the Trump administration despite the public health crisis.
“By halting enforcement of the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA is recognizing and responding to the available evidence – which has clearly and definitively demonstrated that the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone is unnecessary and restrictive,” said Phipps.