Judge suspends FDA rule mandating women see doctor in-person before getting abortion pills

A bottle and two pills of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, are seen in a handout photo.
A bottle and two pills of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, are seen in a handout photo. | REUTERS/NEWSCOM

A judge has suspended a Food & Drug Administration rule requiring that women be seen by a doctor before abortion-inducing drugs are dispensed to them to have an at-home abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang issued the decision Monday, suspending the FDA rule, arguing that the in-person requirement presented a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking an abortion.

“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” wrote Chuang, as reported by The Associated Press.

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“By causing certain patients to decide between forgoing or substantially delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, the In-Person Requirements present a serious burden to many abortion patients.”

In a medical abortion, women are given two drugs: mifepristone (RU-486), and misoprostol. Mifepristone works by blocking the effects of the natural pregnancy hormone progesterone. Misoprostol induces contractions and a miscarriage.

The demand to suspend the FDA regulation stemmed from legal action taken in May by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, noted the AP. 

Many pro-life OB/GYNs are no longer members of ACOG and instead have joined a separate organization, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, after they said ACOG began advocating for abortion on demand and abortion for minors without parental consent. 

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, denounced the judge's decision, saying in a statement released Tuesday that she and the pro-life organization were “dismayed at Judge Chuang’s decision to suspend the FDA requirement.”

“The end goal of the abortion industry is to have the drugs sent through the mail making possible ‘Do-It-Yourself’ abortions. However, this is not some benign ‘take-two-aspirin’ treatment,” Tobias stressed.

Tobias also noted that mifepristone can be especially risky for women to take if it's not properly regulated by medical professionals.

“Mifepristone abortions put at risk perfectly healthy mothers who are pregnant with perfectly healthy babies,” continued Tobias. “No woman’s life should be placed at risk because abortion activists are trying to score political points.”

In a previous interview with CP,  Sue Turner, director of Physicians for Life, said "if the cervix doesn’t open once contractions start" some 30 minutes after a woman takes Misoprostol, "it can cause all kinds of horrible problems for her." 

Abortion access has been a major source of controversy during government-enforced shutdowns aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, with state officials debating whether abortion is an "essential service."

In the United Kingdom, the Department of Health and Social Care changed its regulations allowing at-home medical abortions for the next two years or until the coronavirus pandemic is over.

The British government policy states that a medical abortion can only be carried out in a pregnant woman’s home if the patient had a “consultation with an approved place via video link, telephone conference or other electronic means” or had a “consultation with a registered medical practitioner via video link, telephone conference or other electronic means.”  

An abortion clinic worker at the Cherry Hill Women's Center in New Jersey told CP in a previous interview that they advise women to expel the miscarriage over a toilet and flush it afterward or to wrap it in sheets on their bed and throw it in the garbage. The abortion provider said that two weeks after an at-home medical abortion women are supposed to be seen by an abortionist at the clinic to ensure the abortion was complete. 

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