Relaxing FDA Restrictions on Abortion Pills Was a Mistake
Months of pandemic lockdown forced doctors to expand their use of telemedicine. In many ways, this change made it easier for Americans to receive swift, high-quality care. But telemedicine also quickly became politicized. Pro-abortion advocates are pushing President Joe Biden‘s Food and Drug Administration to make permanent a policy—temporarily in place due to the pandemic—that lifts restrictions on the online sale and distribution of abortion pills. This dangerous policy allows women to receive abortion pills in the mail without ever meeting face to face with a doctor. It should be reversed, not extended as Americans return to in-person activities.
The administration’s support of mail-order abortion reflects a commitment to political priorities, not the safety and well being of women. Mail-order abortion pills jeopardize the health of women who are now being told it is safe to take potent drug cocktails without supervision or adequate screening. After more than a year of grief, the last thing we need is a cavalier policy that leaves women alone and at serious risk.
Without guardrails that prevent mail-order abortions, the use of abortion pills accelerates. In 2001, there were only 71,000 chemically induced abortions, but in 2017 there were approximately 340,000, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. A cottage industry of companies offering abortion pills by mail is already shipping pills to women in 26 states.
Proponents of the temporary FDA rule argue that abortion-by-mail is a safe and simple procedure, but avoid discussing specifics. First, a woman has to take a pill, mifepristone, which stops the baby from growing, essentially starving it of necessary proteins to continue living. Shortly after taking this pill, the woman takes another pill, misoprostol, which induces uterine contractions that expel the baby. Side effects from this drug cocktail include vaginal and abdominal bleeding, vomiting, chills, headaches and diarrhea.
Under the FDA’s temporary rule changes, many women are left to ingest this drug regimen alone. They have to become their own abortionist and deal with the psychological and physical pain of abortion without any medical care.
Academic research supports concerns about the safety of chemical abortions. A study conducted in Finland discovered chemical abortions were nearly four times more likely to result in complications than surgical abortions. Moving this already risky procedure from a doctor’s office to a private home is reckless.
According to a 2015 peer-reviewed study, women who took abortion pills often did so outside of the FDA-approved time frame. Tragically, many of them had severe complications. Out of the 40 women analyzed, 31 had excessive bleeding, 25 had an incomplete abortion and two went into shock. The authors concluded, “Strict legislations are required to monitor and also to restrict the sales of abortion pills over the counter.” Loose restrictions that allow women to obtain these pills more easily could lead to a spike in severe complications.
The inherently risky nature of chemical abortions makes eliminating existing safeguards, such as in-person medical examinations, a bad idea. An online zoom call with a doctor can’t establish the baby’s gestational age or allow the doctor to perform an ultrasound, both of which help detect potentially fatal conditions like an ectopic pregnancy.
Data released by the FDA in 2018 show that chemical abortions have resulted in thousands of complications in the last 20 years, including 768 hospitalizations and 24 deaths. It is likely that those numbers significantly undercount the actual totals because of insufficient reporting requirements. Another study found more than 500 cases in which women had severe complications that likely would have resulted in death if they hadn’t had access to an emergency room.
We must push back against FDA efforts to expand the use of abortion pills and decrease safety precautions. Ingesting abortion pills can be extremely dangerous, especially when performed alone without adequate medical supervision. Sadly, President Biden and his team seem more focused on politics than on protecting women.