Biden administration eases access to abortion by pills

Washington (AFP) – US President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday passed new measures easing access to abortion with pills, a rare win for the pro-choice movement in the country's increasingly bitter battle over reproductive rights.


The decision repeals a requirement for women seeking a medication-induced abortion to pick up one of the drugs involved in person, a rule described as unnecessary by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but also the American Medical Association (AMA).

It comes as Republican-led states have enacted increasingly stringent laws curtailing women's rights to end their pregnancy, while the country's Supreme Court is hearing cases that could reverse abortion as a constitutional right.

The new decision was described in a letter sent by the Food and Drug Administration to plaintiffs in a court case seeking easier access to abortion.

The letter was uploaded online by the ACLU, and said that the drug mifepristone no longer has to be dispensed only in clinics, medical offices or hospitals, but the FDA added a requirement that pharmacies that dispense it must be specially certified.

The in-person rule was dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic, reinstituted by the administration of former president Donald Trump and then dropped again by the Biden administration, on a temporary basis due to the pandemic. Thursday's move appears to make it permanent.

Medication abortion is widely used and involves two different drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, that can be safely used up to the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Mifepristone blocks progesterone, a hormone essential to the development of a pregnancy, and thereby prevents an existing pregnancy from progressing. Misoprostol, taken 24-48 hours after mifepristone, works to empty the uterus by causing cramping and bleeding, similar to an early miscarriage.

Since approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, their use has risen sharply, and they now account for at least 40 percent of all abortions.

"The FDA's decision to permanently remove the in-person pill pick-up requirement is a major step forward that will enable many more patients to get this safe and time-sensitive medication as soon as they are ready, without travel-related expenses and delay," said Georgeanne Usova, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU in a statement.

But the decision was slammed by anti-abortion groups.

"The Biden administration's reckless move puts countless women and unborn children in danger," said Sue Liebel of the Susan B. Anthony List.

The decision to ease federal restrictions won't impact restrictions on mifepristone, passed by roughly half of states.

But the ACLU said it would expand the options and capacity of states seeing an influx of out-of-state people seeking abortion as a result of abortion bans in their home states, such as Texas, which recently made it illegal to receive an abortion after six weeks.

Legal observers expect the Supreme Court to also overturn Roe v Wade, which enshrines the constitutional right to abortion, next spring, which would pave the way for total bans at the state level.