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Explainer: FDA extends Biden-era regulations on abortion pills

abortion pills

Mail order abortion pills are the next front for the pro-life movement, especially in light of the recent oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The FDA today made permanent the temporary regulations allowing women to obtain the pills without an in-person consultation with their physician. This decision represents an extension of the abortion regime’s attempt to expand their ability to provide the abortion and a failure of the government to protect women from dangerous complications that may occur. In addition to making the regulations permanent, the FDA will require that pharmacies that dispense mifepristone be certified. 

What is the abortion pill and procedure?

The use of abortifacient medications has quickly become one of the most common forms of abortion. In 2019, abortion pills accounted for over 40% of all abortions in the United States. The pills may be used up to the 10th week of pregnancy. The procedure uses two separate medications. The first, mifepristone, blocks production of the hormone progesterone which thins the uterine lining and prevents the embryo from remaining implanted. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 to 48 hours after the first dose. It causes the uterus to contract and discharge the child and placenta. A follow-up appointment is required after two weeks. Though this previously included either a sonogram to check for any remaining tissue or blood work to check for an infection caused from any remaining tissue, current regulations allow this to be completed by telephone. 

Previous FDA restrictions

Previously, the first pill had to be administered in a doctor’s office or at a clinic. The second pill could be taken at home. However in April 2021, the Biden administration lifted this requirement because of COVID-19 restrictions on gathering together. The temporary guidance allowed individuals to receive a prescription for the pill with only a telemedicine appointment. They were then shipped through the mail. At the time, the FDA argued that this was a result of review of multiple studies that noted no link between a lack of in-person visit and serious safety concerns. The decision by the Biden administration was a rollback of Trump-era policies that required the in-person visit and which were subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision.

The current regulations were temporary, in effect only because of the pandemic. However, the FDA’s decision today makes permanent the regulation, clearing the way for any certified healthcare provider to prescribe the drugs online and send them by mail. If the Supreme Court were to overturn the precedents in Roe, a possible outcome of the recent Dobbs abortion case heard earlier this month, individuals could still obtain the abortion pills through the mail with a telehealth consultation. Even in states which have passed restrictions on mail-order abortion pills, some companies have said that they will continue to ship the medication and disregard the laws and regulations. 

Dangers of mail-order chemical abortion

The FDA stated in their updated regulations that the “benefits outweighed the risks” as they removed the requirement for in-person consultation. However, though the rates of serious effects are statistically rare (between 1-2%), complications are not uncommon. Also, it should be noted that of the statistics that are available, there are disputes as to their accuracy because women may not report their adverse effects as being linked to the pill if they choose to go to the emergency room, thus leading to an undercounting of complications. 

Common complications from the abortion pills include severe bleeding or cramps as well as hemorrhaging. More dangerous, however, is the threat of an infection that may result from the medication not causing all of the fetal tissue and placenta to be expelled. Also, for individuals who have an ectopic pregnancy (an instance where the embryo implants outside of the uterus), detectable only through a sonogram, taking the first dose of medication — mifepristone — could cause very serious complications such as the rupture of the pregnancy and severe bleeding. 

How should Christians respond to the new regulations?

As Christians, we should lament the lengths to which abortion providers will go to extend the ghoulish practice of taking unborn lives. In some ways, it should be an encouragement that abortion providers feel the need to push for such drastic measures because it evidences the success of the pro-life movement in advancing and passing legislation restricting access to abortion and protecting the lives of the preborn. At the same time, Christians must recognize that this is further evidence that it is not enough just to make abortion illegal. We must convince the culture that the destruction of life is unthinkable.

Even in states that have outlawed the abortion pills, enforcement is difficult. Thus, Christians must work to ensure that they do not confuse the passing of pro-life legislation or the overturning of the precedents in Roe and Casey as the end of the fight. Important as that is, if people still desire abortions, these pills will be available. Christians must work tirelessly to proclaim the dignity of every human life and address those factors that lead women to consider abortion.

abortion pills

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