The Trump administration had restricted the practice, putting women at risk of contracting COVID-19
mifepristone (L) and misoprostol tablets
Mifepristone (L) and misoprostol tablets
| Credit: ELISA WELLS/PLAN C/AFP via Getty

Women in need of the abortion pills will be able to get them by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said that a review of recent studies "do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns" if the pills are received at home rather than in a medical office.  

Women can now get approved for the two-pill medical abortion through a telemedicine appointment, and then receive the pills by mail. Women first take the drug mifepristone, followed by the drug misoprostol 24 to 48 hours later.

At the start of the pandemic, the FDA, then under the Trump administration, had waived the requirement for an in-person doctor's appointment for nearly all medications, but not for the abortion pill. Patients were required to pick up the pill at a medical office and sign a form about the risks before taking it at home.

That rule led the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to sue the FDA, saying that it put women at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal judge agreed, arguing that they would unnecessarily have to go in person to medical offices and often travel long distances to get there, but the case went to the Supreme Court in January and justices sided with the Trump administration, keeping the restriction in place.

Tuesday's decision from the FDA, which is now under the Biden administration, reverses that restriction.

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While abortion rights groups are hopeful that this will lead to a permanent change, one that lasts beyond the pandemic, conservatives and anti-abortion groups decried the decision. March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said "chemical abortions should have more medical oversight not less."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, meanwhile, celebrated the reversal.

"This means that many patients in need of termination of early pregnancy will be able to access safe, effective mifepristone by mail, rather than having to risk avoidable COVID exposure to themselves and their clinicians," they said on Twitter.

The group's president, Dr. Eva Chalas, and CEO, Dr. Maureen Phipps, said in a statement Tuesday that this decision validates the data which shows that at-home treatment is safe.  

"Mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication," the president and chief executive said in a statement. "Requiring the medicine to be dispensed in person, then taken elsewhere at the patients' discretion, is arbitrary and does nothing to bolster the safety of an already-safe medicine."