Courts Health Reproductive Choice

Federal Judge Rules Doctors Can Distribute Abortion Pills by Mail

A federal judge ruled Monday that patients seeking the abortion pill do not need to visit a doctor in-person to obtain the pill during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision, issued by U.S. District judge Theodore Chang in Maryland, makes it legal for doctors to mail the abortion drug mifepristone. Used along with misoprostol, the drugs can end an early pregnancy or manage a miscarriage.

In his decision, Chang stated that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule requiring patients to go to a doctor during an ongoing pandemic can be dangerous and poses a “substantial obstacle” to people seeking an abortion, which would be unconstitutional.

“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” Chang wrote.

States hostile to abortion rights, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, joined the suit in support of the FDA, arguing any rulings could impact their own laws. The judge rejected their claim and said those states would still be able to impose regulations in addition to FDA rules.

The lawsuit was brought in May by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other groups after the FDA singled out mifepristone as the only drug that can be self-administered but required in-person pickup.

Skye Perryman, chief legal officer of ACOG, said the ruling correctly recognized the lack of medical basis for the FDA’s rules and the hardships people face in obtaining abortion care, especially during a pandemic.

“Today’s ruling recognizes the hardship and undue burden that many women have faced obtaining essential health care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perryman said.

Eva Chalas, the president of ACOG, also recognized how the FDA rule disproportionately affected communities of color that faced systemic discrimination and were hit especially hard during the pandemic.

“The FDA’s burdensome in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone has had a disproportionate effect on communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including communities of color who already face existing inequities and structural barriers to care,” Chalas said, “Suspending the REMS requirement for mifepristone for early pregnancy termination represents a necessary step forward in our collective work toward health equity during this unprecedented time of pandemic.”

Sources: PBS Newshour 07/13/20; Time 07/13/20; Forbes 07/13/20; ACOG 07/13/20; Feminist Newswire 05/28/20

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