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Pharmacies can now offer abortion medication.
Pharmacies can now offer abortion medication. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images.

FDA will allow retail pharmacies to sell abortion pills, while more states look to ban the medication

Pharmacies have to apply for certification to distribute before selling. The change allows mail-order companies and pharmacies to participate.

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While the Supreme Court last Summer may have ruled to strip American women the right to an abortion and reduce access to abortion medication, this will not stop the women from seeking the procedure through other avenues. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that for the first time in the history of the United States, it will allow retail pharmacies, including large chains like Walgreens and mail-order companies, to offer abortion pills despite more states seeking to ban such medication, let alone the procedure. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the rule an “important step” in the right direction. 

“Although the FDA’s announcement today will not solve access issues for every person seeking abortion care, it will allow more patients who need mifepristone for medication abortion additional options to secure this vital drug,” the group said.

For the Biden Administration, this will undoubtedly be a huge helper as the President and his cabinet have been looking for ways to relieve a bit of the pressure off women, but because of the Supreme Court’s ruling and other factors, are unable to truly bring about change when it comes to abortion access. 

To be able to distribute abortion medication, the new rule requires pharmacies across the country  to apply for certification to distribute the pill, Mifepristone, with one of the two companies that make the drug. Once approved, they will be able to give it to patients directly after receiving a prescription from a certified prescriber.

"Under the Mifepristone REMS Program, as modified, Mifeprex and its approved generic can be dispensed by certified pharmacies or by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber," the agency said on its website on Tuesday.

The pill itself has different uses, while being all abortion related. Mifeprex is the brand name of mifepristone and when combined with another drug called misoprostol, can be used for miscarriage management, and can induce an abortion up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, also known as medication abortion.

Abortion rights activists say the pill has a long track record of being safe and effective with no risk of overdose or addiction. In several countries, including India and Mexico, women can buy them without a prescription to induce abortion.

"Today's news is a step in the right direction for health equity," Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement.

"Being able to access your prescribed medication abortion through the mail or to pick it up in person from a pharmacy like any other prescription is a game changer for people trying to access basic health care," Johnson added.

While the rule change has many excited about the progress being made to help further protect abortion and access to medication, despite the removal of Roe v. Wade, others have been vocal against the policy. 

“The Biden administration has once again proved that it values abortion industry profits over women’s safety and unborn children’s lives,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser. the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-life America. “Abortion activists want to turn every post office and pharmacy into an abortion business, and the Biden F.D.A. is a willing participant.”

While others, especially those affiliated or working for abortion access advocacy groups and organizations, are content with the change and think it should have always been this way. 

“By allowing brick-and-mortar pharmacies to dispense medication abortion care, the F.D.A. is treating medication abortion like the safe, effective, time-sensitive care that it is,” said Kirsten Moore, the director of the Expanding Medication Abortion Access project. 

The rule also means the removal of the in-person requirement to get Mifepristone. But it leaves in place the other two requirements, which are that health providers be certified to demonstrate they have the knowledge needed and the ability to treat abortion patients as long as the patient fills out a consent form.

The change however, does not mean abortion pills are now equally accessible because of the ongoing state-level legal fights regarding the legality of abortion procedures. 

“While we’re still fighting against bans and restrictions on medication abortion at the state level, it’s critical that people in states where abortion is legal have access to care. Today’s changes will help millions of people have more access to the care they need, when they need it,” McGill Johnson said.

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