This week, a federal judge in Maryland ruled that people can now access abortion pills through the mail during the pandemic, rather than having to go to a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital.
But the ruling won’t change anything for Louisiana women and abortion patients.
That’s because Louisiana has its own law forcing abortion patients to make in-person clinic visits before receiving the medication. The office of Attorney General Jeff Landry confirmed to WWNO/WRKF that the decision will have no impact on medication abortion access in the state.
The decision came after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and others sued the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) earlier this year over rules requiring in-person visits in order to obtain the pills during the coronavirus outbreak, despite the agency’s push for widespread adoption of telehealth.
The suit argued HHS was singling out mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in medication abortions, and called the in-person requirement “medically unnecessary,” pandemic or no pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang found the requirement created a “substantial obstacle” to abortion access during the outbreak.
“By causing certain patients to decide between forgoing or substantially delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, the In-Person Requirements present a serious burden to many abortion patients,” Chuang wrote.
Medication abortion is used in early pregnancy. It’s approved for use up to 10 weeks of gestational age by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Louisiana was among 10 states in the South and Midwest that sought to intervene in the case because, they said, it would undermine states with laws that require in-person medication abortions. Those states include Mississippi and Alabama, which are now seeing dramatic rises in coronavirus cases. The judge denied the request and said the ruling wouldn’t impede state laws that go beyond federal requirements.
Louisiana is one of 18 states with laws that require medication abortion to be provided by a physician, and for that physician to be physically present when the patient takes the first pill. Many abortion-rights groups argue these requirements are onerous and designed to restrict abortion access.
In the wake of the decision, ACOG President Eva Chalas called mifepristone “a safe medication” and said the “FDA's in-person dispensing requirements provide no medical benefit to patients.”
“The FDA’s burdensome in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone has had a disproportionate effect on communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including communities of color who already face existing inequities and structural barriers to care,” she said.