FDA Lifts Restrictions on Abortion Pills by Mail
What you need to know about what is and isn’t allowed now
The Food & Drug Administration, which sets the rules about what medications can be used in the US and how, recently said that health care professionals can resume dispensing abortion pills by mail while the pandemic continues. The FDA had already approved that last year, but the previous administration blocked it, even though the FDA had waived in-person requirements for virtually every other drug, including opiates.
This is incredibly important! It means that people can have abortion pills mailed to them by their abortion care provider after a telemedicine appointment instead of having to travel to a clinic to pick them up in person. It lets them access the care they need without risking potential exposure to COVID-19 or racking up travel expenses. It also lets clinicians expand their telemedicine practices to provide more care to more people – and prove that telemedicine is both safe and effective.
As excited as we are to see expanded access to medication abortion, we’re seeing some misunderstandings about it. Here are four things it definitely doesn’t mean:
- Abortion pills still aren’t available over the counter. They are still prescription drugs.
- It’s still not possible for someone who isn’t pregnant to get a “just in case” prescription for abortion pills. Providers only prescribe and dispense the medication to people who have already had a telemedicine appointment about being pregnant and wanting an abortion with pills.
- This is not a permanent situation. The FDA is only allowing clinicians to dispense abortion pills by mail for the duration of the pandemic. Once it decides that the health emergency is over, patients will have to return to in-person care. (But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and several other medical organizations are pushing to keep medication abortion available by telemedicine and online prescribing even after the pandemic is over, so stay tuned.)
- And finally, the FDA’s decision doesn’t eliminate the potential legal risks of acquiring abortion pills outside of the health care system for a self-managed abortion. It only applies in the context of clinicians who are prescribing the medications to patients.
Someone who gets abortion pills by mail, from a clinician or otherwise, needs to understand how they work and how to use them safely. The FAQs at AbortionPillInfo.org are a great resource. So is the Euki reproductive health app, now available in English and Spanish for iOS and Android.