US regulator moves to expand access to abortion pills

Bricks-and-mortar retail pharmacies in the US will be able to offer abortion pills for the first time under rules changes made on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration, in a significant win for reproductive rights activists looking to shore up access to the drugs after the Supreme Court decision last year to overturn Roe vs Wade.

Danco Laboratories, which distributes mifepristone, a medication used to terminate pregnancies within the first 10 weeks, said on Tuesday that the FDA had approved the regulatory change to pave the way for certified pharmacies to dispense the abortion drugs directly to patients after receiving a prescription from a doctor.

Under prior rules, the pills were only accessible at medical clinics or via mail-order online pharmacies, which first obtained temporary permission to distribute the drugs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At a time when people across the country are struggling to obtain abortion care services this modification is critically important to expanding access to medication abortion services and will provide healthcare providers with an additional method for providing their patients with a safe and effective option for ending early pregnancy,” Danco said in a statement.

The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The changes will be welcomed by reproductive rights activists, who have sought to increase access to abortion services as numerous states have tightened restrictions after the Supreme Court ruled in June to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion.

Last year’s ruling in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization set the stage for states to decide their own abortion rules, and many Republican-controlled states have since shortened the window in which a woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy. A dozen states now ban abortions at all stages of pregnancy.

There are early signs, however, of a political backlash to the moves. In November’s midterm elections, where Democrats outperformed expectations and dashed Republican hopes of a “red wave”, exit polls and early vote tallies showed that women voters were more galvanised over the issue than pre-election polling had suggested, with many indicating that abortion access was second in their list of concerns, behind the economy.

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