The Food and Drug Administration nixed restrictions that the Biden administration lifted during the pandemic for dispensing abortion-inducing medications, a win for abortion rights advocates amid state-level efforts to impose new abortion bans.

The new guidance from the FDA out Thursday said that patients no longer need to get the medication in person at a clinic or hospital. The medication can be prescribed via telehealth appointments and picked up in certified retail pharmacies.


The agency was compelled to issue new guidance for prescribers and patients Thursday by a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the rules. The Biden administration temporarily suspended the in-person dispensing requirement that said women had to see a healthcare provider in person to get the two-pill medication regimen, cutting down on risks of exposure to COVID-19. Despite the in-person dispensing requirement, women were never required to take the pills in the presence of a doctor, a point abortion rights advocates have used to argue that the requirement is superfluous.

Medication abortion, which must be taken within 10 weeks, has shown to be highly effective and safer than many over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol, according to Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a program within the University of California San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. The pill’s safety — there is a roughly 0.4% risk of major complications — has made it the most commonly used form of abortion, rather than the invasive procedure. In 2017, medication abortion accounted for about 39% of all abortions performed in the U.S. and 60% of all abortions taking place up to 10 weeks’ gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The availability of mifepristone, taken with the drug misoprostol, through the mail increases access for women in rural areas with few clinics. The pill regimen is regulated under the FDA’s drug safety program Risk and Evaluation Mitigation System which mandates patients can only get a prescription in person from a certified medical provider and must retrieve the medication in person. However, patients have been able to get prescribed the medication through telehealth services since April, effectively doing away with barriers to obtaining the drug such as travel and getting time off from work.


The revised guidance Thursday, while good news for people worried that the high court will scale back or throw out Roe v. Wade, will not change much for women in GOP-led states that have banned the mailing of the drug. In Texas, for instance, the legislature has banned prescriptions of the drug seven weeks into gestation, three weeks earlier than the FDA’s safe prescribing guidance.

The law also places a $10,000 penalty with two years’ jail time for any physician found to be delivering or mailing the drug to a patient. The Texas ban was signed into law less than a month after the state banned abortions after six weeks, a law whose unique structure gave enforcement power to citizens rather than state government entities. Last week, the Supreme Court let the six-week ban remain in place.