The stakes of any disruption to reproductive health care are always high, and especially so during a crisis. A lack of timely access to abortion, in particular, threatens the health and economic stability of women and families at a time when so many people are losing their income and their health insurance.
But there doesn’t have to be a disruption. There are steps that states and the federal government can take now to ensure that women get the care they need. Here are a few.
Make Abortion Pills Available by Mail
Medication abortions, which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, are already popular, making up about 40 percent of all abortions in the country today. That number would most likely be higher still if it weren’t for a years-old F.D.A. regulation on mifepristone — the first of two drugs that are taken during a medication abortion — requiring patients to take the drug at a clinic or a hospital after it’s dispensed by a certified prescriber. (Patients are then sent home with a dose of misoprostol, which starts the active bleeding process.)
The F.D.A. says that the regulation, known as a REMS (risk evaluation and mitigation strategy), is needed “to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks.” But reproductive rights experts note that the drug is very safe and argue that it is overregulated.
Given the coronavirus pandemic, it is incumbent on the F.D.A. to relax its regulation on mifepristone, at least temporarily. Doing so would allow many women to get a prescription for abortion-inducing drugs from a doctor via telemedicine, at which point the medications could be mailed to the patient.
Unfortunately, 18 states effectively ban abortion care via telemedicine — measures that also ought to be lifted, at least for the time being.
Don’t Criminalize Women Who Seek Abortions
It’s an enduring truth that when access to legitimate reproductive health services are limited, women desperate to end their pregnancies will turn to other means. Before Roe v. Wade, that often meant coat hangers and dangerous back-alley providers. Today, it much more often means ordering abortion pills off the internet, from overseas websites — generally a safer option, but one that carries legal risk.