Abortion pills have become the most common method of pregnancy termination in the United States — but their accessibility remains uncertain.
A new report from the Guttmacher Institute found that in 2020, medication abortion accounted for 54 percent of abortions — a significant rise from the 39 percent reported in 2017. During the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed patients to obtain abortion pills by mail despite attempts by anti-abortion legislators to halt this practice. And the high usage of the abortion pill shows that it is an important health care option.
First approved by the FDA in 2000, mifepristone and misoprostol, referred to as “the abortion pill,” have provided an alternative to surgical abortions. In a recent exploratory study that analyzed the decision-making process of patients, many chose abortion pills because they prefer the procedure to a more surgical option. The abortion pill is an extremely safe and effective option with complications at less than 1 percent.
And yet for over two decades, anti-choice politicians ensured that the FDA kept the abortion pill on the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) program, which made the abortion pill harder to obtain and more difficult to prescribe.
To be sure, international pharmacies have provided affordable abortion pills via mail for years. Pregnant women have turned to these options because of lack of transportation, child care, familial or financial support. However, obtaining these pills is murky from a legal standpoint. And the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shut down many of these avenues because of a halt on international mail from certain countries.
That’s why reproductive health care experts, advocates and activists alike, including FFRF members, demanded that the FDA remove in-person requirements for obtaining abortion medication. And in December, the agency did just that.
With 26 states poised to completely ban abortion should the ultraconservative Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the abortion pill offers a safe, accessible and affordable option for self-managed abortion care.
However, religiously motivated legislators are taking action to curtail women’s ability to obtain abortion pills. Currently, 19 states prohibit telemedicine to prescribe abortion, despite the FDA approval. Additionally, 16 state legislatures have introduced bans or restrictions on abortion medication. In fact, seven states would completely ban the use of medication abortion and five states would specifically prohibit the mailing of abortion pills, while eight more would ban telehealth appointments for abortion.
The future of legal abortions appears very grim. Let us never forget that a secular nation should have laws, including health care laws, that reflect science, not religion. Evidence-based research shows that abortion pills allow millions of women to exercise their bodily autonomy and have safe abortions. Let us all speak up on this important matter. The lives of pregnant people across the country depend on it.