Biden expands access to mail-order abortion pills. Idaho Republicans call it ‘dangerous’

Idaho’s congressional delegation has called on the federal Food and Drug Administration to reverse a recent move expanding access to drugs that terminate early pregnancies.

The FDA last month finalized a rule change that eliminates in-person dispensing requirements for mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug, allowing pharmacies to distribute the pills by mail. The modified rule also allows retail pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, to obtain certification to prescribe the drug.

“The FDA’s action promotes dangerous do-it-yourself abortions by mail and telemedicine without ever seeing a doctor in person, and turns brick-and-mortar pharmacies and post offices into abortion centers,” said a letter signed by 77 federal GOP lawmakers.

All four of Idaho’s congressional delegates signed the letter, which was addressed to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.

The lawmakers wrote that eliminating the requirement for in-person screening threatens the health of pregnant women. They also alleged the change violates longstanding federal law that bars abortion drugs from being mailed.

In a tweet, Risch said President Joe Biden “continues to abuse the rights of the unborn by approving dangerous mail-order abortion drugs.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador also co-signed a letter with 21 other GOP attorneys general, which said the FDA abandoned “common-sense restrictions” and called the decision “illegal and dangerous.”

The FDA rule change is one of a series of moves by the Biden administration to expand abortion access, as more than a dozen states, including Idaho, banned the procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision abandoned federal protection for abortion.

Biden expands access to abortion

Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a national trade group, said in a news release that there’s no evidence that in-person dispensing requirements improve the safety of the medication or patient outcomes.

“Codifying these important regulatory changes is a positive development at the end of a crushing year for abortion care,” she said in the release. “As more states ban and severely restrict abortion care following the Dobbs decision, every single effort to improve access to medication abortion matters.”

The FDA first approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago. The drug is prescribed in combination with misoprostol, and the FDA permits a regimen of the two drugs to terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks of gestation. The FDA does not recommend buying the drug online.

Medication abortions now account for more than half of abortions in the United States, according to a 2020 survey of abortion providers by the Guttmacher Institute, a nongovernmental research group.

In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration temporarily lifted the FDA’s former in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone, before making it permanent last month. In 2021, anticipating the Dobbs decision, the administration permanently lifted restrictions on sending abortion drugs by mail.

Biden, a Democrat, last month issued a memorandum directing his administration to continue finding ways to expand access to abortion care.

“Members of our cabinet and our administration are now directed, as of the president’s order, to identify barriers to access to prescription medication, and to recommend actions to make sure that doctors can legally prescribe, that pharmacies can dispense, and that women can secure safe and effective medication,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Jan. 22.

Idaho bill on medication abortion in the works

Idaho law bans abortion by any method. That likely includes medication abortions, attorneys have said.

But anti-abortion advocates are working on legislation to “make that abundantly clear,” Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told the Idaho Statesman.

“They want to make sure that there’s no doubt that it’s not going to happen in Idaho,” he said by phone.

Crane chairs the House State Affairs Committee, which would host such a bill. He declined to say who is working on the proposal.

If the bill drafters “get the language the way they want it,” the legislation could get a hearing this legislative session, Crane said.