The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging federal regulations it says unfairly limit women’s access to medication abortion.
The suit — filed on behalf of a Hawaii-based family physician, Dr. Graham Chelius, and several health care organizations — challenges FDA regulations on where women are able to get Mifeprex, the brand name for the drug mifepristone. That medication can be taken with another drug, misoprostol, to end early pregnancies and is commonly referred to as the “abortion pill.”
Under current FDA regulations, women cannot get Mifeprex with a prescription at a pharmacy.
Instead, they must be handed the pills at a clinic, medical office or hospital under the guidance of a qualified health care provider and must also sign a form indicating they have been informed of any possible risks associated with the drug. (The same is not true of misoprostol.)
The new ACLU lawsuit argues that those restrictions are medically unnecessary and serve only to delay women’s care, if not prevent them from accessing a timely abortion altogether.
“The abortion pill is safe, effective, and legal. So why is the FDA keeping it locked away from women who need it?” Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project said in a press release announcing the suit. “The FDA’s unique restrictions on medication abortion are not grounded in science — this is just abortion stigma made law.”
The lawsuit places a special emphasis on the burden faced by women living in rural and medically underserved areas who may not have a provider who stocks the medication near their home. For example, Dr. Chelius — the plaintiff — is unable to stock the medication at the hospital where he works in Kauaʻi, so he must send patients on a 300-mile round-trip flight to another island to get the pills.
“Making this additional trip — which may necessitate additional child care, additional time off work and significant transportation expenses — also compromises some women’s ability to keep their abortions confidential with dangerous consequences for women in abusive relationships and young women with abusive parents,” the suit says.
Extensive research has shown that medication abortion is safe, including a recent study that found medication abortion via telemedicine is as safe as it is in the presence of a medical provider. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has also thrown its support behind medication abortion, calling it a safe and effective method that has benefited millions of women.