Abortion Groups Swiftly Move to Push At-Home Abortions After Biden Administration Lifts FDA Restrictions

Abortion activists and other groups are pushing to expand ‘telemedicine abortions’ after significant efforts leading up to the lifting of restrictions.

A woman looks at a website offering the abortion pill (RU-486) from Mifepristone displayed on a computer  in Arlington, Virginia.
A woman looks at a website offering the abortion pill (RU-486) from Mifepristone displayed on a computer in Arlington, Virginia. (photo: Olivier Douliery / AFP/Getty)

WASHINGTON — After the Biden administration last week lifted longstanding U.S. Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone amid the COVID pandemic, abortion providers like Planned Parenthood quickly applauded the move and pushed for it to become permanent. 

A large-scale telemedicine abortion website also launched as abortion groups continued their longstanding efforts to promote at-home abortions.

The FDA wrote earlier this month that, based on four studies on medication abortion in the U.S. during the COVID pandemic, “although there are limitations to the study designs, the overall findings from these studies do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns (such as hemorrhage, ectopic pregnancy, or surgical interventions) occurring with medical abortion as a result of modifying the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

As a result, the FDA stated it will “exercise enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 PHE with respect to the dispensing of mifepristone through the mail either by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber.” 

The pill mifepristone blocks nutrients to the child in the womb and is followed by the pill misoprostol which causes the uterus to contract and empty.

Since 2000, the FDA had previously restricted mifepristone under its “Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies” (REMS) drug-safety program, only permitting that it be prescribed for abortions by a certified health-care provider and dispensed in a clinic, hospital or medical office. The FDA guidelines state that women should not take mifepristone if it has been more than 70 days since their last menstrual period, or if they’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, problems with adrenal glands, are currently being treated with long-term corticosteroid therapy, or have an intrauterine device (IUD) in place.

 

Studies’ Ties to Abortion Industry

One of the four studies cited by the FDA in its decision was the TelAbortion project funded by Gynuity Health Projects, which states on its website, “Since 2003, Gynuity Health Projects has been at the forefront of efforts to increase women’s access to medical abortion in settings throughout the world, by filling critical evidence gaps, informing clinical guidelines and practice, and forming effective partnerships.” Gynuity is also funded by Planned Parenthood, which is a partner in the TelAbortion project. 

In an interview with Fast Company, one of the project’s co-leaders Erica Chong described a “workaround” to expand into states where telemedicine abortion is illegal by getting to a neighboring state. According to that interview, the hope of the “study” was “to get enough providers on board so TelAbortion can eventually go from research study to full-blown service,” calling into question its objectivity. 

Another of the four studies cited in the FDA’s letter relied in part on data from the TelAbortion project and included one researcher, Dr. Bliss Kaneshiro, who disclosed receiving “research support” from Gynuity Health Projects. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement, “It is difficult to see the FDA’s decision to not enforce important safety protocols as anything other than callous capitulation to the requests of abortion activists without regard for the health and safety of the women involved. An in-person evaluation by a medical professional is necessary to accurately determine the age of the baby (abortion pills are only approved for use in the first 70 days), whether the pregnancy is ectopic (which the woman has no way of knowing on her own), and to test and treat for Rh-incompatibility between mother and baby.” 

“Without this information and proper treatment,” the archbishop’s statement continued, “a woman’s health, future fertility, and life are placed in serious jeopardy. With this decision, not only are women being sold the lie that abortion will solve their problems, but also that chemical abortion is a safe and easy way to go about it.”

 

Planned Parenthood’s At-Home Abortions

Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson applauded the FDA’s move to greenlight at-home chemical abortions and pushed for it to become permanent, saying, “it’s critical that the FDA now conduct a comprehensive review of the full set of restrictions on mifepristone. We must ensure all patients can access the essential health care they need — during the pandemic and beyond.” Planned Parenthood touted its offering of “medication abortion via telehealth in 21 states.”

Under its information about “how to get an abortion pill,” Planned Parenthood’s website states that it has “partnered with Gynuity Health Projects, a research organization, to study the impact of TelAbortion. A TelAbortion involves all the same steps and procedures as an in-person medication abortion, but you don't have to travel to a health center for your abortion. Instead, an abortion provider conducts a video evaluation via a private and secure video connection. The abortion pills are then sent to you by mail.”

“You can qualify for the TelAbortion research study if you live in one of the Gynuity project states (DC, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Oregon, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Virginia and Washington) and are pregnant and want a medication abortion,” according to the website. 

In some other areas, Planned Parenthood has recently been able to offer telemedicine abortions following the FDA’s rule change. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region in Illinois has switched from in-person pick-up to mailing abortion pills. 

As noted by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 19 states currently require “the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present when the medication is administered, thereby prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication for abortion remotely.” 

Other states have moved to enact bans on telemedicine abortions. Planned Parenthood sued and temporarily blocked a ban in Ohio, but other bans are advancing in Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and West Virginia.

 

‘Abortion on Demand’

In addition to Planned Parenthood’s push to expand at home abortions, a large-scale online abortion service “Abortion on Demand” launched shortly after the Biden administration’s announcement last week. In an interview with Marie Claire, Dr. Jaime Phifer, the website’s founder, said she worked on the website for a year and a half prior to the rule changes and was waiting for such a change for the site to become legal. 

Phifer said abortions will be $239 and she will donate 60% of the profits from the website to the Abortion Care Network, a membership organization for independent, in-person abortion facilities.

The site’s priorities are clearly stated on the home page with the words “abortion is everything to us.” In the “About Us” section, the group calls abortion “sacred work” saying, “Telemedicine utilizes technology that is not yet accessible to everyone everywhere, so we built our platform to donate back to in-person clinics doing this sacred work.”

She told Marie Claire magazine that a screening will look for “rare medical contraindications to mifepristone and gestational age and screen folks for ectopic pregnancy risk. We’re only seeing people 18 years or older. We do ask for a photo ID in the video portion of the visit; the ID doesn't have to match the state they say they're in, it just has to confirm their age.” The website works with 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Phifer told Marie Claire that this is based on where telemedicine abortion is now legal.

The FAQ section of the site says that in the event of an emergency, “We keep a board-certified physician on call if needed. Please contact our 24/7 call center at the phone number in your packet. If you are having a serious medical emergency you should call 911.” They also “do not require ultrasounds for patients” but “recommend them for patients who have an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) or who may have pregnancies further along than we can safely manage on our platform.”

Phifer said she intentionally chose the name Abortion on Demand because “it is provocative, and I wanted abortion to be in the name explicitly because I wanted to counteract some of the stigma. I didn't want a fluffy name. And that's what it is: It's getting abortion almost on demand, like you would on your phone.” She said abortion on demand is also “what we want, that's what we're going to try to go for.”

Abortion pills, RU-486 spill out over an ultrasound image.

Supreme Court Could Rule Soon on Abortion Pill Regulations

Since 2000, the FDA has placed the chemical abortion protocol of mifepristone and misoprostol—allowed in the U.S. for abortions up to 10 weeks in a pregnancy—under its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) list, requiring it to be prescribed in-person in a hospital, clinic, or medical office.