Inside the Dems' New Fight to Increase Abortion Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic
On Tuesday morning, Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform formally requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lift the medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, one of two prescription medications most commonly referred to as abortion pills.
And it's a move that needs to happen. Because the pandemic has provided an even greater opportunity for those seeking to curtail abortion rights. Attorneys general in Texas and Ohio, for example, designated abortion services as “nonessential” and attempted to outlaw the procedures entirely, citing a need to preserve personal protective equipment and hospital beds. (You can read about one woman's experience trying to get an abortion in Texas during the pandemic here.)
Since Roe v Wade, over 1,000 anti-abortion laws have been enacted, rendering Roe a reality in name only for millions of people, primarily Black and brown people. In the advent of these restrictions, which has left six states with only one clinic that provides abortions and millions of women 100 or more miles away from the nearest clinic, many people have decided to self-manage their abortions via medication abortions. In response, anti-choice lawmakers have set their sights on medication abortion as the new frontier of anti-abortion legislation.
But back to the letter, which you can read in full here. Signed by Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Katie Porter, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Cori Bush, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Rep. Jackie Speier, Rep. Robin Kelly, and Rep. Brenda L. Lawrence, it states:
"Imposing this requirement in the midst of a deadly pandemic—one that has disproportionately impacted communities of color across the United States—needlessly places patients and providers in harm’s way, and further entrenches longstanding health inequities."
Oh, and remember when, in January of this year, the U.S. District Court of Maryland ordered the FDA to suspend the in-person requirement for medication abortion? Yeah, the Supreme Court then granted former President Donald Trump’s administration request to re-instate the requirement, once again requiring people to travel to clinics in person at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was killing upwards of 4,000 people a day.
Some important stats to consider: with a success rate of 95 percent, only 0.1 percent of medication abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization—as in, the medications—mifepristone and misoprostol—are incredibly safe and effective. Studies have also shown that medication abortion can be safely and effectively taken at home, without the need for an in-person visit to a clinic that provides abortion services. (And in 2017, medication abortions made up 39 percent of all abortions in the U.S.)
One 2019 multi-state study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that telemedication abortion is just as safe and effective as medication abortions provided in health centers by in-person health care providers. Yet the FDA mandates people procure abortion medications in person—a requirement that states hostile to abortion rights have taken advantage of. Currently, 19 states require the clinician providing a medication abortion be physically present at the time the medication is administered.
Another portion of the letter reads:
Of the more than 20,000 drugs regulated by the FDA, mifepristone is the only drug that FDA requires patients to obtain in person at a hospital, clinic, or medical office, but does not restrict the ability of patients to self-administer—unsupervised—at home or at a location of their choosing.
Cosmopolitan reached out to the FDA for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.
While people are navigating a mountain of historic loss, punishing a person seeking an abortion by forcing them to put themselves, their family members, and their communities at risk is simply unconscionable. It is also par for the course for a political party that fancies themselves “pro-life” as they champion the death penalty, separate immigrant children from their parents and lock them in cages, and perpetuate anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments that studies have shown put LGBTQ+ youth at higher risk of dying by suicide.
Republicans know people do not stop having abortions, regardless of the number of medically unnecessary barriers to care thrown their way. So in the absence of ending abortion, they seek to punish those that have them in the hopes of setting an example that will deter others from exercising their constitutional rights.
If the people who hate abortion so much truly value life as much as they shamelessly profess, then it would behoove them to join the Democratic leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in urging the FDA to end this medically-unnecessary barrier to medication abortion access. And if they don’t, well, just consider it example 344,223,553 of the “pro-life” hypocrisy plaguing this nation at a time of unparalleled crisis.