How Politics And Bureaucracy Halted The Promise Of The Abortion Pill

Melissa Jeltsen
·2-min read
The abortion pill was supposed to decentralize abortion care. Instead, patients are still forced to travel long distances to abortion clinics to pick it up.  (Getty Images)
The abortion pill was supposed to decentralize abortion care. Instead, patients are still forced to travel long distances to abortion clinics to pick it up. (Getty Images)

Twenty years ago today, the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone, a drug used to terminate early pregnancies that held the promise of revolutionizing abortion care in the U.S.

Colloquially called the abortion pill, mifepristone is taken in combination with another drug, misoprostol, and allows patients under 10 weeks pregnant to have an abortion in the privacy of their home, instead of inside an abortion clinic. Reproductive rights activists lobbying for the drug envisioned a future where women could have the pills prescribed by their primary physician and dispensed at their local pharmacy, transforming abortion into just another part of normal health care.

And yet, in the year 2020, that vision has not come true.

Rigorous research has shown that medication abortion is safe and effective, and over 3.7 million women have used it to end their pregnancies since its approval. These days, about 40% of abortions in the U.S. are done using medication. Still, mifepristone is still treated as a dangerous drug, over the objections of a growing chorus of medical organizations and Democratic lawmakers.

Because mifepristone is subject to a special set of FDA restrictions known as a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), medication abortion is highly regulated. In most cases, patients seeking the drugs must drive to their closest abortion clinic, which may be hours away depending on the state, to get the medicines.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief the consequences of the restrictions. Patients have been forced to travel long distances in violation of stay-at-home orders to obtain drugs that could easily be sent in the mail.

In May, reproductive health care providers successfully sued the FDA to temporarily block the requirement that patients obtain medication abortion in-person during the pandemic. Currently, patients in some states are able to access medication abortion via telemedicine, though the Trump administration...

Continue reading on HuffPost