Last week, abortion care providers and advocates for reproductive health had a rare moment to celebrate, when the FDA approved a label change for one of the drugs involved in medication abortion.
In 2013, a bill authored by then-Senator Dan Patrick that specifically targeted access to medication abortion was folded into the omnibus abortion bill after failing to pass the legislature on its own during the legislative regular session. One of the pillars of the bill, which was eventually passed as House Bill 2, this language forced physicians to follow outdated and cumbersome FDA regulations.
Not only were the regulations over a decade old, they no longer reflected the evidence-based off-label practices supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical professionals. Further, they turned what had been a relatively inexpensive and unobtrusive option for early termination of a pregnancy into an incredibly burdensome task.
Combined with existing abortion restrictions, this policy change required people seeking an abortion in Texas to go to the doctor as many as four times in order to take the pills – which had to be administered by a physician.
Despite protests that the new provisions did not reflect medical standards or evidence and would do nothing to increase the health or safety of those seeking medication abortions, legislators used the out of date labeling to decrease access to early, safe abortion care in Texas.
With this new label change, the FDA has brought the label instructions for use into line with evidence-based standards that reflect the best options for patient health – and that medical professionals have been practicing for years.
In a press release, Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, celebrated the change and expressed hope that this would help increase access to medical abortion in Texas. “Prior to HB2, 40 to 50% of our patients at Whole Woman’s Health chose medication abortion,” Hagstrom Miller explained. “Since HB2 went into effect,” she continued, “that figure has decreased dramatically. For the past two years only about 5% of the women we serve in Texas have been able to get the medication abortion care they wanted because HB2s barriers were insurmountable.”
Along with expanding the window for administering medication abortion care from 7 weeks to 10 weeks of pregnancy, the newly-approved labeling also reflects changes in suggested dosage and a reduction in number of required visits. Language regarding who may administer the medication has also been changed.
All of these updates to the drug’s labeling through the FDA reflect the best standards of healthcare as defined by medical professionals in the field, and a blow to anti-choice legislation that used the out-of-date language as a tool for obstruction and restriction of access to abortion care.
Texas still has numerous abortion restrictions on the books that will not be impacted or lessened by this move, but it is a victory worth celebrating in the struggle for accessible, safe, compassionate abortion care.