Abortion medication access expanded, but health experts decry ‘paternalistic busywork’ rule

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took new steps to increase access to abortion medication by making it available to retail pharmacies, meaning that patients no longer have to go to a clinic or a health care facility specifically for the drugs. The loosened restrictions have been celebrated, and rightly so—abortion access in the United States has continued to become more and more difficult, especially since the Supreme Court ruling last summer overturning Roe v. Wade. These days, a win’s a win.


Pharmacies in the 12 states that have practically banned abortion would be unable to distribute the pills. The pharmacies that can do so must complete a certification process, which is still a hurdle that does not exist for similar medications. “Pharmacies dispense thousands of other medications every day without needing a specific certification for each one,” writes Ushma Upadhyay, a professor at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program in the obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences department at the University of California San Francisco, in an op-ed for the LA Times. “It is just another hurdle and hassle that will deter pharmacies from selling this essential medication.”

Additionally, clinicians who prescribe the medication must continue to be certified to do so. In a column for The Nation, We Testify founder and executive director Renee Bracey Sherman, along with reproductive health researchers Dr. Daniel Grossman and Dr. Tracy Weitz, aptly described the certification processes as “paternalistic busywork.”

Of course, mifepristone—the first drug that is taken in the two-pill regimen for abortion and miscarriage management—was not approved by the FDA until 2000, and it was approved under a Risk and Evaluation Management Strategy (REMS), which dictated that the medication must be dispensed directly to the patient by a certified clinician. REMS requirements are usually placed on addictive substances (no matter that the medication regimen for self-managed abortion is safer than Tylenol).

To be clear, mifepristone is still not available over the counter—patients cannot just walk into a Walgreens and request medication to terminate a pregnancy, despite the overwhelming evidence that supports the safety of medication abortion.

So, tl;dr: we’re still dreaming of a health care system that doesn’t politicize science. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Becca Andrews

Becca Andrews | bandrews@reckonmedia.com

Becca Andrews is a reporter at Reckon News and the author of "No Choice: The Destruction of Roe v. Wade and the Fight to Protect a Fundamental American Right."

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