Health Reproductive Rights

Medical Groups Sue FDA Over Abortion Pill Restrictions During Pandemic

Medical experts and reproductive rights advocates sued federal agencies yesterday, asking it to allow people to obtain abortion pills remotely during the pandemic.

The suit accuses the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of endangering public safety by disallowing doctors from distributing abortion pills through telemedicine during the pandemic.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing the plaintiffs, which include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, among other groups.

The Trump administration has urged healthcare providers to use telemedicine as much as possible to limit the spread of COVID-19. The FDA has eased regulations on other medication to allow remote distribution. Mifepristone, the drug used in 39% of abortions in the United States, is the only drug that patients must still pick up in-person but can self-administer at their chosen location.

Even before the pandemic, many women, especially women of color, had struggled to access quality reproductive healthcare. The situation is exacerbated by the coronavirus.

“Women of color have faced enormous disparities across every form of healthcare. Reproductive healthcare is no exception,” SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson said.

The ACLU had previously sued to ease restrictions on mifepristone in 2017. The case is still pending. The current suit is narrower in scope and would only lift restriction during the pandemic if it succeeds.

Previous to the pandemic, some doctors have started distributing Mifepristone by mail. Plan C, a reproductive advocacy group, started assembling a network of doctors who are sending pills by mail. Aid Access, a group founded by a Dutch physician, has helped patients obtain pills from India over the internet.

The unnecessary restrictions on abortion pills is contradictory to the federal government’s own efforts to curb the coronavirus, the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit.

“[The agencies] have singled out mifepristone prescribers and patients for a special barrier to telehealth care during the COVID-19 pandemic that impedes clinicians’ medical judgment; subjects patients, clinicians, and other health care staff to unnecessary medical risks; serves no rational or legitimate government purpose; and conflicts with [the agencies’] own efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the ACLU wrote.

Sources: Vice News 05/27/20; NPR 05/27/20; The New York Times 05/12/20

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