Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general are asking government agencies to lift restrictions on an abortion-inducing drug because of the coronavirus pandemic.
California attorney general Xavier Becerra sent a letter signed by 20 other Democratic attorneys general to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration on March 30. The letter requests the rescinding of a safety program required for medication that carries health risks and demands that the two departments allow easier access to abortion medication, facilitating abortions that could happen without the patient having to leave her home.
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The request for significantly loosened restrictions on abortion comes as states face questions about whether abortion services should qualify as essential care exempt from state lockdowns.
The drug in question, mifepristone, can be used to cause an abortion during early stages of pregnancy. The letter asks HHS and the FDA to waive the drug's Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) to facilitate out-of-clinic abortions.
REMS requires providers to be registered with an FDA safety program and with the drug manufacturer. It also requires patients to be informed of the drug's potential side effects.
The letter says the restrictions are "onerous and medically unnecessary" during the coronavirus outbreak and could force women to travel to obtain abortions.
The letter also says mifepristone is safer than other over-the-counter drugs and has been found to have high safety ratings in past studies.
It requests that, at a minimum, the FDA use its "enforcement discretion to allow certified prescribers to use telehealth for mifepristone."
"These women are putting themselves and their families at risk when they seek out the healthcare that they need, and the federal government must act to ensure that no matter where they live, they can continue to receive necessary, safe, and legal abortion care," the letter concludes.
The letter comes in the midst of legal clashes over abortion. Federal judges ordered the temporary lifting of abortion restrictions in Alabama, Texas, and Ohio earlier this week. The cases will be heard early next month as state governments attempt to impose penalties on abortion providers who continue to operate during the pandemic.
The Kentucky state government issued a statewide ban on abortions for the duration of the pandemic. The state's attorney general said the ban is necessary, with an exception for cases involving threats to the health of the mother, to contribute to social distancing and conserve medical resources for coronavirus treatments.
Other states deemed abortions essential care and allowed abortion clinics to stay open during the pandemic. A Planned Parenthood affiliate in Pennsylvania shut down all services it offered except for abortions after the state governor ordered all non-life-sustaining services be shut down. The clinic also requested donations of vital medical equipment to continue performing the procedures, despite shortages across the country as hospitals are inundated with coronavirus patients.
Twenty of the attorney general offices did not respond to a request for comment. The Maryland attorney general office told the Washington Free Beacon it did not have any further reasoning beyond the rationale in the letter.
The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List criticized the letter, saying it could recklessly endanger women.
"The radical abortion lobby is shamelessly exploiting the fears of women and families during this national crisis to promote a dramatic expansion of chemical abortion, just when protective FDA regulation of these dangerous drugs is needed most," SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser told the Free Beacon. "This reckless push by the abortion industry puts everyone at risk, including women who may be more vulnerable to infection after an abortion."