The story at a glance
- Medical abortion accounted for more than half of all abortions in the United States in 2020.
- But states are now passing laws to restrict how and when it is distributed.
As more state legislatures target abortion rights, lawmakers are poised to jeopardize medical abortions, the most popular method of abortion for women in the United States.
Medical abortion consists of two pills called mifepristone and misoprostol. Both drugs work together to prevent a pregnancy from developing and were approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. Since then, medical abortion has become the most common method of abortion, representing more than 54% of abortions in 2020.
In some circumstances, medical abortion is the only option for women who may live in areas without facilities where surgical abortion is readily available. This essentially allows health care providers to “deliver abortion care without anyone having to travel,” said Rachel K. Jones, senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy and research organization. on the right to abortion.
Jones said that since the two-dose regimen was approved by the FDA, healthcare providers have become more comfortable prescribing it and more women have it as an available healthcare option.
“It may also require less physical contact. It is not an invasive procedure, it does not involve touching a person’s body. And so that probably made it more appealing to those health care providers and to people seeking abortion care,” Jones said.
The FDA also made a critical change to how Americans could access medical abortion during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing patients to get the pills by mail instead of requiring in-person visits with medical providers. specific health care. In December, the FDA decided to make this decision permanent, removing the in-person dispensing requirement because it would “reduce the burden on patient access and the health care delivery system.”
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State legislatures across the country are drafting new bills to restrict access to medical abortion in various ways, whether by mail or in person.
In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem (right) signed a bill in March requiring women to make three separate in-person trips to a doctor’s office to receive the two doses of medical abortion. However, the law faces a preliminary injunction that prevents it from taking full effect, although Noem’s administration has appealed.
Noem also signed a law banning medical abortions via telemedicine.
“I look forward to the day when all life (both born and unborn) will be protected by law. This litigation will help,” said Noem in a tweet at the time.
Similar laws requiring a prescribing clinician to be in the physical presence of a patient exist in 19 other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas and more. Guttmacher has created a public tracker of states that have abortion restrictions in place.
Last year, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott (right) signed his state’s abortion bill into law, he tweeted a message it says in part, “this bill guarantees that the life of every child unborn with a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.”
Texas banned the use of the abortion pill from seven weeks of pregnancy, joining Indiana which banned the drug at 10 weeks.
This is despite the growing use of medical abortion in the United States and research supporting it as a safe and effective healthcare option. Planned Parenthood describes the abortion pill as having been used safely in the United States for over 20 years with rare serious complications reported. Adverse effects occur in less than 0.3% of medical abortions in the United States, making it safer than common medications like Tylenol and Viagra.
“They don’t care about people who need access to abortion care. They don’t care about safety, they don’t care about health, they don’t care about science. They just have this political agenda and they’re pushing it regardless of any rational or humanistic information presented to them, unfortunately,” Jones said of lawmakers who continue to push anti-choice legislation.
Many women believe that no matter what laws are passed, medical abortion will always remain an option, a misconception that Jones says is not true.
“Medical abortion is not going to save the day,” Jones said.
If states start banning abortions, as they already have, Jones warned that medical abortion will also not be legal or accessible to most people in those states.
The current wave of anti-abortion legislation rests on a monumental Supreme Court case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationresumed in 2021.
The case directly challenges the court’s 1973 decision on Roe vs. Wade by challenging a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The judges have already heard oral arguments in the case and are expected to issue their decision before the end of the court’s term in June.
Given the current conservative majority in court, the case should be a blow to abortion rights.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which has argued abortion rights before the Supreme Court, says the Mississippi case would “give a green light to anti-abortion lawmakers in other states seeking to restrict or ban abortions.” “.
The center said that in 2021 alone, it had tracked more than 400 restrictive anti-abortion measures introduced in different states.
“It’s always important that people have a choice in the types of abortions they get, not just medication, but also that they can decide whether they prefer or want to have a procedural abortion. It’s important to have both options available,” Jones said.
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Posted on April 14, 2022