Increased Access to Safe Abortions are a Human Right
By Lena Opper
Abortion in a pill is safe and easy. Why make getting one so hard? A recent Supreme Court decision reinstated an unnecessary in-person requirement for picking up Mifepristone, a two-pill self-managed abortion medication that could easily be sent via telehealth. The Biden-Harris Administration has already demonstrated their support for reproductive health by removing the global gag rule. They should act to further protect people who have unwanted pregnancies by removing barriers that will prevent them from having access to much needed medications.
When the pandemic hit, people who needed Mifepristone had a choice: risk contracting or spreading the Coronavirus to pick up the pills or deal with the consequences. At the start of the pandemic, the FDA quickly moved to allow certain in-person requirement drugs to be dispensed by telehealth and delivered directly to homes—abortion pills were not included. To remedy what posed an undue burden, Maryland U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang ruled that the FDA halt the in-person requirement. This ruling empowered more people to access care without putting themselves, their families, and their communities at risk. But it was too good to be true as the Trump Administration chose to appeal this ruling. In January, the Supreme Court sided with the former Administration and ruled to reinstate the in-person requirement for receiving abortion pills.
The two-step abortion pill is the most common and effective method of having an abortion by medication, and it can be taken at home. The FDA approved the pills in 2000 and they have a success rate of 95% and in 2017 accounted for more than 39% of all abortions in the U.S. The medications expand abortion access for those who do not have the luxury of time and resources for an in-person abortion at a healthcare clinic. Mifepristone falls under the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) requiring patients to obtain the medication in-person from licensed providers, although It’s as safe as other over-the-counter medications. Although initial approval of these pills greatly expanded reproductive healthcare access, the unnecessary REMS classification keeps them from helping the country’s most vulnerable.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a critical burden on those seeking preventative medicine as they were told to quarantine at home, socially distance, avoid travel, and interactions with people outside of our homes. This burden disproportionately affected BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) and low-income households who lacked private insurance and adequate means to seek private healthcare. Members of the community have to act against the recommendations of public health advisors for mere means of survival. These most vulnerable members of the community also suffer from severe reproductive health issues that are not caused by lack of interest in their health but because of the lack of access to care.
Decisions about access to abortion pills are made by FDA administrators and enforced by local, state, and government lawmakers to determine the level of access people will receive. The REMS classification requires people to visit a licensed clinician to obtain the pills for their safety. However, in this case, the restriction is unnecessary because people may not live within close range of a clinic and 13 states require two visits in order to receive an abortion. By restricting access to safe reproductive healthcare, some lawmakers effectively say: we know better than you. Requiring travel to receive a perfectly safe self-administered pill puts people at a severe risk of having unsafe abortions. It also places an unfair burden on people who do not have the luxury of time, job security or money to travel far to reach clinics.
With the Biden-Harris Administration now in office, people in the U.S. sees a positive future of reproductive health. The new Administration has a few options at their disposal. They could stop the enforcement of the in-person requirement. Or they could truly repair the damage of the REMS requirement by selecting an FDA Commissioner who will prioritize reproductive health and remove the REMS requirement for Mifepristone. To ensure the health and safety of people who are seeking an abortion for unwanted pregnancies, It’s imperative that the Government takes action to improve access to safe abortions.
Lena Opper is a first-year MPA-PNP candidate at NYU Wagner with a specialization in management and leadership. Lena serves on the boards of Wagner Womxn and Wagner Philanthropy student groups. She is passionate about women’s issues, particularly reproductive justice, rights and health. Prior to attending NYU Wagner, she was the Membership Manager at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF). Lena holds a BA in French and Philosophy from Bates College.