“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” the judge wrote.
A federal judge ruled on Monday that patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy via medication abortion during the pandemic will not have to put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 by visiting a clinic in person to obtain the pill.
Because a medication abortion—which is a regimen of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol—is only available as an option during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland concluded that requiring patients to visit a hospital, clinic, or medical office imposes a “substantial obstacle” to abortion patients and is likely unconstitutional under the current public health crisis.
“Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” the judge wrote in his 80-page decision.
Monday’s decision will allow healthcare providers to arrange for mifepristone to be mailed or delivered to patients. (Misoprostol can be picked up at a pharmacy with a prescription.)
Chuang also did not set geographical limitations on his ruling. Referring to the nature of the pandemic, he said that “crafting relief that attempts to account for both the unpredictable changes and nuanced regional differences across 50 different states over an extended period of time is simply infeasible.”
In a statement, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project staff attorney Julia Kaye said that the ruling “means that the Trump administration can no longer force patients to incur unnecessary COVID-19 risks as the price of getting abortion care.”
“Like so many of the administration’s actions,” she continued, “its refusal to suspend this irrational restriction during the pandemic — despite urgent requests from the nation’s leading medical authorities — was particularly dangerous for people of color and low-income communities, who are disproportionately suffering severe harm from COVID-19.”
Skye Perryman, chief legal officer for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration’s restrictions on mifepristone are not medically necessary and “do not advance the health and safety of patients.”
Research bears this out. According to a 2018 paper advocating for mifepristone’s removal from FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program, since the drug was approved in 2000, “there have been more than 3 million American users and 19 deaths reported, yielding an estimated mortality rate of 0.0006 percent. In comparison, the risk of death among pregnant women in the United States who have a live birth is 14 times greater, at 0.009 percent.”
The authors also point out that “the opportunity for misuse of the drug is minimal owing to the fact that each woman receives only a single dose.”
Additionally, a recent Newsy investigation shared by USA Today also found that mifepristone has a better safety record than penicillin and Viagra—both of which can be obtained at the pharmacy with a prescription.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.