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What the FDA’s Recent Rule Change Means (and Doesn’t Mean) for Abortion Pill Access

A group of women dressed in black in front of the US Supreme Court stand in front of a banner reading "we are taking abortion pills"

Accessible reproductive care is under attack in the United States, despite the fact that voters continue to overwhelmingly vote in favor of access to abortion and contraception (even if they do also keep electing anti-abortion Republicans). The Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and states across the country have implemented abortion bans, with the U.S. Senate even introducing a proposed 15-week ban on the federal level.

The Biden administration has said that protecting abortion rights is a priority and that fight has been taken up on a number of fronts by the Department of Justice. Now the Food and Drug Administration has introduced new rules that aim to protect and expand access to abortion medications.

Different types of abortions

There are several different methods of abortion. The type that probably comes to mind for most people are in-clinic abortions. These are typically done after the 12th week of pregnancy, depending on your local laws. There are different types of procedures: suction and dilation and evacuation. But the most common type of abortion is done via medication. Usually a mix of mifepristone and misoprostol, a medication abortion is safe and effective and frequently performed through the 11th week of pregnancy.

Access to abortion medication—especially as available via the mail—has become a contentious aspect of the fight for abortion rights.

So what’s new?

Under the new FDA rules, these pills will no longer require an in-person doctor visit for a prescription. They’re not over-the-counter drugs (a prescription is still required) but a telehealth visit will suffice, which eases the burden immensely for those seeking abortions.

Retail pharmacies can also now carry the abortion pill, which they were previously banned from dispensing. This will make the abortion pill more easily accessible with people not being forced to rely on clinics to provide the medication. Walgreens has already said it’s planning to pursue certification to carry the drug.

Unfortunately, this new rule does not override any pre-existing local or state bans. (Although, separately, the Justice Department has said that the USPS has the right to deliver these medications, even in banned areas.) So please check the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws and policies.

(featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Nava was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, they edit economic textbooks by day and write geeky articles for the internet in the evenings. They currently exist on unceded Lenape land aka Brooklyn. (Filipine/a Mexican American)