The Biden administration cited the coronavirus pandemic to give the green light to at-home, self-administered abortions on Monday.
The FDA said it will allow the prescription of an abortion pill, mifepristone, through the mail, reversing Trump administration restrictions on remote prescription of abortion drugs. The agency wrote that because "the in-person dispensing of mifepristone for medical termination of early pregnancy may present additional COVID-related risks to patients and healthcare personnel because it may involve a clinic visit solely for this purpose," it will allow doctors and nurses to prescribe the medication remotely.
The letter, sent on Monday to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, states that the agency will exercise "enforcement discretion" in allowing abortion medication to be prescribed without requiring an in-person doctor's visit.
Republican lawmakers warned against removing the requirement that the abortion medication be prescribed in person. Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) accused the Biden administration of exploiting the pandemic to advance the interests of the abortion industry.
"This move by the FDA is just using COVID-19 as a cover to dispense abortion-inducing medication remotely," Sasse said. "We are over a year into this pandemic with health care largely returning to safe, in-person delivery. This isn’t about pandemic caution—it’s a political move to increase abortions."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said the agency should be focused solely on the coronavirus pandemic rather than using COVID-19 to achieve political goals.
Multiple Republican-controlled states including Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas have passed legislation to restrict access to remote prescriptions of abortion medication. But Democratic states have moved to ease regulations and even limit a doctor's involvement in the procedure. On Monday, Democratic Hawaii governor David Ige signed a bill to allow registered nurses to provide abortion medication or services in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Pro-life groups criticized the administration for facilitating access to drugs that have been linked to adverse effects. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List conducted a 20-year study beginning in 2000 that found that side effects from the drugs included severe bleeding, ectopic pregnancies, and other life-threatening conditions.
"Pro-abortion activists have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning, working to eliminate safety precautions in order to expand the proliferation of dangerous chemical abortion drugs," SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said. "This is flagrant and dangerous disregard for the health and safety of American women and girls."
Activists said the FDA's actions could jeopardize the health of women who suffer such side effects. Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, said the administration valued "ideology over health and science." Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said the rules could delay a woman's access to urgent care from a doctor.
"With this action, the Biden administration has made it clear that it will prioritize abortion over women's safety. Allowing unsupervised chemical abortions via telemedicine, without requiring timely access to medical care, will put women in grave danger," Mancini said.