Health Watch: Medication abortion the new front in reproductive health battle

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:59 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In the wake of what would have been Roe v. Wade’s 50th anniversary, the Biden administration this week announced it was taking executive action to help protect medication abortions. It comes as some GOP lawmakers are pushing for a federal ban on all abortions.

“The right of every woman in every state in this country to make decisions about her own body is on the line,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday, announcing President Biden’s two-point memorandum directing his administration to “identify barriers to access and recommend actions to make sure that: doctors can legally prescribe, doctors can dispense, and women can secure safe and effective medication.”

Medications like Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, block the pregnancy hormone progesterone. It’s the first pill taken in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. In conjunction with misoprostol - which goes under the brand name Cytotec -- Mifepristone is used to terminate a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation.

Prior to the FDA’s January 3rd decision allowing patients to pick up an abortion pill from drug stores with a prescription, a credentialed health care provider was required to administer Mifepristone in person.

“Which meant that a patient came to the office, saw me, was counseled by their provider, and had any ancillary testing to confirm their pregnancy and that they were candidates for the method. And then we would hand them their medication directly from the office,” explained Dr. Lauren MacAfee, an OB-GYN at the UVM Medical Center.

During the pandemic, federal regulators loosened the restriction permitting clinicians to mail the medications to patients. This most recent rule change takes that move one step further. MacAfee says the decision benefits people who live in rural areas or rely on telehealth. “Who might have an ultrasound done in, say, a local emergency department, then have a telemedicine visit with a provider and not necessarily have to travel just to get that medication,” she said.

National pharmacies like Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens have all announced their intention to complete the Mifepristone certification process in states without medication abortion bans like Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. Kinney Drugs in a statement said it is “in the process of carefully and thoughtfully evaluating the requirements of certifying our pharmacies to dispense Mifepristone under its FDA REMS Program.”

But since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade seven months ago, abortion opponents are suing the FDA to remove Mifepristone from the market after more than two decades. Vice President Harris cites 22 states have already refused to follow this new federal rule.

Medication abortion accounted for 51% of all abortions in the country in 2020, according to the CDC. Both the FDA and CDC stress that it is scientifically proven and that Mifepristone is extremely safe and effective when used as prescribed. It is not available to buy over the counter.

Related Stories:

Reproductive liberty, slavery amendments formally enrolled in Vermont Constitution

Constitutional expert on what’s next after Prop 2 and 5 pass on Election Day

Voters approve reproductive liberty amendment

Campaign Countdown: Article 22 foes argue measure guarantees unregulated abortion

Out-of-staters increasingly look to Vermont for reproductive health care

Vt. lawmakers to introduce laws to protect women traveling for abortions

Will Vermont become abortion haven post Roe v. Wade?