With the commencement of 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A) officially removed the in-person requirement when obtaining mifepristone, a drug that blocks a hormone necessary for pregnancy development. According to The New York Times, prescribing physicians previously dispensed mifepristone directly to the patient, at specific clinics or hospitals. But now, for the first time, retail pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens, when aligned with F.D.A guidelines, can provide easy access to an abortion pill. As stated in The Washington Post, this acts as the latest step to ease restrictions on abortion medications since mifepristone was approved in 2000. 

The F.D.A eases restrictions regarding the distribution of mifepristone. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The F.D.A official website addresses specific rules and qualifications when dispensing mifepristone: patients will still need a prescription from a certified doctor and must complete a form of consent. Not all physicians can prescribe mifepristone, first having to prove, to agency satisfaction, their ability to perform an abortion. Steps must take place to conceal doctors’ names and protect them from any sort of public harassment or violence. Given the time and resources needed to ensure compliance and complete these steps, some pharmacies choose not to dispense mifepristone, a medication that only a small percentage of their customers use.

While abortion pills are widely used in hospitals and pregnancy termination centers around the United States (U.S.), mifepristone and step two of the abortion regimen, misoprostol, causing contractions that expel pregnancy tissue, have become largely sought after following the Supreme Court decision in 2022 overturning the federal right to abortion. With this, discussion surfaces around what this decision means for states where abortion is illegal. As stated by The Washington Post, The Department of Justice (DOJ), authored by Assistant Attorney General Christopher H. Shroeder, issued a legal opinion that U.S. postal services may deliver abortion pills to any state. “There are manifold ways in which recipients in every state may use these drugs, including to produce an abortion, without violating state law,” said Schroeder. “Therefore, the mere mailing of such drugs to a particular jurisdiction is an insufficient basis for concluding that the sender intends them to be used unlawfully.” 

Abortion laws can act as a catalyst for political battles, affecting a pharmacy’s choice of weather or not to dispense the pills. Contrasting responses following the F.D.A’s decision immediately sparked political uproar. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the President of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America says, “The Biden administration has once again proved that it values abortion industry profits over women’s safety and unborn children’s lives…abortion activists want to turn every post office and pharmacy into an abortion business, and the Biden F.D.A. is a willing participant,” while Kirsten Moore, director of the Expanding Medication Abortion Access project, says that by, “allowing brick-and-mortar pharmacies to dispense medication abortion care, the F.D.A. is treating medication abortion like the safe, effective, time-sensitive care that it is.” While mifepristone is only authorized for abortions, as stated in Penn Medicine News, it maintains the ability to aid with miscarriages. According to The New York Times, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, filed a citizen petition requesting that the F.D.A. ease restrictions for mifepristone to be used for miscarriages.

A spokesman for Walgreens, Fraser Engerman, establishes the pharmacy’s intentions to review the F.D.A’s decision and, “continue to enable our pharmacists to dispense medications consistent with federal and state law.” According to the National Public Radio (NPR), Danco Laboratories, having created the abortion pill with GenBioPro, clarified that, “Although the FDA’s announcement today will not solve access issues for every person seeking abortion care, it will allow more patients who need mifepristone for medication abortion additional options to secure this vital drug.”

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