The U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to put a lawsuit on hold late last week that could have longer term implications for the abortion medication mifepristone. On Friday the HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, filed in Hawaii district court a request to stay a lawsuit that has been ongoing around mifepristone since 2017. The ACLU, which also filed for the stay, is suing the U.S. Health and Human Services on behalf of a Hawaii clinician. The ACLU and the Hawaii clinician are suing because the FDA’s in-person pickup requirement for mifepristone requires patients in Hawaii to have to fly between islands to receive a single pill. Once a patient has picked up mifepristone at a clinic, they can go home to take it. The FDA requires abortion patients to travel to a clinic to pick up mifepristone because the abortion medication is under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS), drug safety program intended for medications with serious safety concerns.
Mifepristone has been in the FDA’s REMS program since the FDA approved the prescription drug in 2000.
After a year of legal fighting over mifepristone, the Food and Drug Administration has reversed itself, allowing the abortion medication to be prescribed during the COVID-19 pandemic through telehealth. The FDA, under the Donald Trump administration, would not allow mifepristone to be prescribed through telehealth, citing safety concerns, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of 20-year-old regulations around mifepristone, patients are normally required to travel to a clinic to pick up the pill. But, the pill can be safely taken at home. In the spring of 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the FDA on behalf of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG).
With a new set of members in the state Senate, a bill to repeal the New Mexico 1969 abortion ban is expected to be filed in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature. Six Democrats who support abortion rights beat Republicans in November, in some cases after defeating anti-abortion Democrats in June’s primary, for state Senate seats, tipping the balance of power further to the left in the upper chamber. The state Senate defeated the 2019 effort to repeal the antiquated state law that bans abortion with few exceptions. Related: State Senate shifts left with progressive wins
Of the eight Democrats who sided with Republicans on the repeal vote two years ago, only two remain: state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, and state Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. Incoming state Senators Carrie Hamblen, Siah Correa Hemphill and Leo Jaramillo, all progressive Democrats who ran on reproductive health, defeated their incumbent Democrat opponents in the primary and then won again in November against their Republican challengers.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to reinstate restrictions on the a medication abortion pill that allowed patients to receive it through the mail during the pandemic. The justices ruled 7 to 2 on the decision in favor of the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. The FDA has maintained a rule that a patient must travel to a clinic to pick up the abortion pill mifepristone for the past 20 years when the drug first came onto the market. Reproductive advocates and experts have said that is politically motivated. The patient can take the pill in a place of their own choosing.
A District Court in Maryland has 40 days to lift, modify or continue the order it previously made to allow the abortion medication mifepristone to be available through telehealth during the pandemic. The U.S. Supreme Court asked the lower court on Thursday to reconsider a case the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) brought against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the summer. ACOG wants the FDA to allow mifepristone to be available for abortion care through telehealth during the pandemic. Although the FDA approved mifepristone 20 years ago for abortion care, the FDA continues to regulate it as if it were a dangerous drug. The FDA argued in court that people should have to continue to pick up mifepristone at a health care provider during the pandemic.
The first reproductive rights test for the U.S. Supreme Court since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death will likely be the court battle over whether people should be able to access the medication mifepristone for abortion through telehealth. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requested the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a lower court’s decision to enable women to receive mifepristone through telehealth during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, people had to travel—in some cases hundreds of miles—to a clinic to receive the medication. But, patients do not have to take the medication at the clinic. They can return home to take it in the privacy of their homes.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other partners sought—and received—a preliminary injunction this summer from a Maryland judge barring the FDA from enforcing its in-person requirement to receive mifepristone.
A Maryland judge ruled last week that an abortion provider can deliver the abortion medication, mifepristone, to patients seeking abortion care through telehealth. But the court injunction is “temporary in nature,” Wendy Basgall, Southwest Women’s Law Center staff attorney, said. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a preliminary injunction, which the judge granted. But it only lasts while the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration of a federal public health emergency is in effect. Mifepristone is one of two medications that an abortion patient takes for a medical abortion.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people are seeking abortion through telemedicine than ever before in New Mexico. Though the numbers are still small, the increase is significant, according to Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). Meltzer wrote in an email that prior to the public health emergency, PPRM enrolled 10 patients from New Mexico into the study over the course of about a year. But in March of 2020 alone, the nonprofit screened 14 patients who were interested, and enrolled eight in that month. “The need for abortion care does not disappear in the midst of a global pandemic,” Meltzer wrote.
While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.