A federal judge in Maryland has suspended a rule that requires women to visit a hospital, clinic or medical office to obtain an abortion pill amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the 80-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang, "in-person requirements" for patients seeking the pill, mifepristone, for an abortion creates an unreasonable burden on patients thanks to health and travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19, and are likely unconstitutional.
“Particularly in light of the limited time frame during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm,” the judge wrote.
The lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups in May. Attorneys argued that the FDA's in-person requirements for the pill infringes on a woman's right to an abortion and violates the due process clause of the 5th Amendment.
Lawyers for the government said the in-person requirements are to ensure that the patients safely use mifepristone. The FDA rule requires patients to sign a form that includes information about the potential risks of using the medication.
Following the judge's ruling, patients can contact their healthcare providers to arrange for the pill to be mailed or delivered during the public health emergency declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mifepristone has been approved by the FDA to be used in combination with another drug, misoprostol, to end early pregnancies or manage a miscarriage.
“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.
The judge also rejected another challenge by the states of Indiana, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma, who argued the case could affect how they enforce their own laws that regulate mifepristone.
According to the lawsuit, more than 4 million people in the United States have used mifepristone in conjunction with misoprostol to end an early pregnancy and accounted for 39% of all abortions in 2017.
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