House members press FDA to lift in-person requirement to get abortion medication

Aug 19, 2021
In The News

WASHINGTON — A group of Democrats on the House Oversight Committee announced a resolution Thursday pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to permanently lift the in-person requirements on medication abortion, as the agency is evaluating its rules on abortion pills.

The resolution — backed by Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, Rep. Barbara Lee of California, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — calls for policies related to medication abortion to be “grounded in science" and "ensure equitable access for patients."

The resolution, first obtained by NBC News, says that lifting the in-person dispensing requirement and other restrictions for mifepristone would improve access without weakening the drug's strong safety profile.

The FDA requires mifepristone, one of the two pills used in early pregnancy abortion, to be distributed in clinics or doctors' offices rather than prescribed and picked up at pharmacies or by mail. In May, the Biden administration announced it would review those requirements for the drug.

However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of doctors and advocates, led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, challenged the rule so that pregnant people could order the pills by mail. The agency temporarily eliminated the requirements on mifepristone first in July 2020, in response to a court order that was later reversed by the Supreme Court, and again in April.

"It's time that we trust the science and ensure access to safe, legal abortion, particularly for communities where abortion care has been historically pushed out of reach," Maloney said. “I plan to continue this fight until everyone can freely exercise their right to access abortion — including medication abortion.”

When medication abortion, which is the most common method in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, is obtained by telemedicine or in person, the likelihood of complications is less than 1 percent, according to ACOG.

Jennifer Villavicencio, an ob-gyn and lead for equity transformation at ACOG, said the in-person dispensing requirement for the drug is "not scientifically based or needed" and creates a "barrier for people to access this medication in a political environment where it is already very difficult to obtain an abortion.”

Lee echoed the ACOG’s calls to eliminate the rules on abortion pills permanently.

"For people already experiencing health disparities — including people of color, people with lower incomes, and people in rural communities — the FDA's restrictions often push access to medication abortion out of reach," Lee said. "We cannot allow discriminatory stigma to keep people from accessing the health care they deserve."