What is medication abortion—and how can we expand access?

Medication abortion is a safe and effective option for ending an early pregnancy — but, the anti-choice movement is waging an all-out disinformation campaign about medication abortion care, aiming to push access to care out of reach for people across the country. Anti-choice extremists and the politicians in their pockets have been spreading false and dangerous claims that are designed to keep care out of reach for millions.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know the facts about medication abortion care — which allows anti-choice disinformation to spread without disruption. This anti-choice disinformation is designed to keep people in the dark. That’s why it’s absolutely critical for reproductive freedom advocates to make clear that medication abortion is both safe and effective, and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over 20 years. By promoting facts and evidence-based information — and putting the lived experiences of pregnant people first — we can help ensure that the FDA follows the science and expands access to medication abortion care.

With Roe v. Wade on the line like never before, we know that access to abortion care — including medication abortion — is at risk. We also know that these attacks on access to abortion care fall hardest on communities who already face barriers to accessing care due to results of systemic racism and inequities including, Black; Indigenous; and other people of color; members of the LGBTQ+ community; and those with lower incomes. It’s critically important that we do everything we can to ensure that the FDA follows the science and lifts the medically unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion.

So, what is medication abortion care?

Medication abortion care has been approved by the FDA for more than 20 years, and is a safe and effective option for ending an early pregnancy.

Medication abortion care can be provided safely and effectively via telemedicine, meaning that a pregnant person can access care in their home or wherever they feel most comfortable. All people must be able to access care in the way that makes the most sense for them. Expanding access to medication abortion care is absolutely critical in the fight for reproductive freedom.

What are the factors pushing medication abortion care out of reach for people who need it?

One of the greatest challenges facing access to medication abortion care is the current FDA restrictions that control how it can be provided and who can provide care. These restrictions force medical professionals to take unnecessary additional steps beyond those required for other medications in order to be able to prescribe medication abortion care. While this restriction is not in effect during the pandemic, the FDA’s restrictions also force people to pick up their medication in person at a hospital, clinic, or provider’s office, meaning that they cannot access care at a pharmacy or through a mail-order pharmacy. Ultimately, these restrictions serve no medical or safety purpose and instead serve as barriers to accessing safe and effective care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made it more difficult to access abortion care, due to travel restrictions, fear of COVID-19 infection, and efforts by anti-choice politicians in many states to block access to abortion care during the pandemic. In order to improve access to care and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the FDA allowed for medication abortion care to be provided through telehealth and mail-order pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we must ensure that the FDA follows the scientific evidence and permanently lifts all of the medically unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion care.

Right now, 19 states ban the use of telehealth (which allows patients and providers to talk to each other via video, send or receive messages via chat, text, or email, and provide care remotely) for medication abortion care for no medical or scientific reason. In fact, research has shown time and again that medication abortion care prescribed through telehealth is equally as safe as providing medication abortion care in person. Pregnant people should be able to have medication abortion prescribed by their healthcare provider and then be able to receive their medications in the way that makes the most sense for them, in consultation with their provider — whether that is at a health center, their local pharmacy, or delivered to their home.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reproductive freedom faces unprecedented threats. The anti-choice supermajority on the Supreme Court has the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. If that happens, 24 states across the country are likely to take action to ban abortion outright — including medication abortion care.

How can we safeguard and expand access to medication abortion care?

In order to expand access to medication abortion care, the FDA must follow the science and permanently remove the medically unnecessary restrictions that block people from accessing it.

With the Supreme Court set to hear a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, we must work to safeguard and expand access to abortion care. By listening to science and lifting unnecessary barriers to access — like those on telehealth access to medication abortion — we can ensure every body has access to the care they need.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is fighting for reproductive freedom for every body.