The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will allow retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills in the United States for the first time, the agency announced Jan. 3, prompting criticism from Catholic and pro-life groups.
The Biden administration's rule change comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, enabling many states to restrict abortion access.
The regulatory change permits the sale of mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in a chemical abortion, at retail pharmacies. The drug could previously only be dispensed by some mail-order pharmacies, or by some doctors or abortion centers.
The rule change ends a previous in-person requirement for its dispersal. The new FDA rules still require a prescription for the drugs, but will permit a wider range of pharmacies to stock and sell them.
"We decry the continuing push for the destruction of innocent human lives and the loosening of vital safety standards for vulnerable women," Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement. "This week’s action by the FDA not only advances the obvious tragedy of taking the lives of the preborn, but is also harmful to women in need."
Medication abortions are becoming a more common method of abortion, accounting for more than half of the abortions in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research center relied on by the abortion industry and advocacy groups.
Some Catholic and other pro-life groups have expressed concern about the safety of the drug. In a document outlining its opposition to expanding access to the drug for abortions, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that the FDA rejects safeguards governing its use that are in place in other countries, noting that in Sweden, for example, a woman undergoing a medication abortion would be "supervised by the midwife for 4 to 6 hours at the outpatient clinic."
The FDA has called mifepristone "safe when used as indicated and directed."
In a joint statement to OSV News, Dr. Marie Hilliard, co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association’s ethics committee, and Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, former CMA president, said the FDA has "promulgated a rule allowing for mail-order abortions, via prescribing mifepristone, regardless of the documented risks to women of the use of mifepristone: hemorrhage, infection, and retention of fetal remains (incomplete abortion)."
The Biden administration, Hilliard and Ruppersberger said, "has been clear that it does not agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that the regulation of abortion belongs to the states, and not to the federal government."
The new rule, they said, will "put the health of women, and their true informed consent, at risk."
Bishop Burbidge also cited concerns about "serious complications" presented by the drug, mentioning the Catholic Church "is consistent in its teaching on upholding the dignity of all life, and that must include care for both women and their children."
"Overturning the safety protocols around abortion-causing drugs to effectively make them available on demand at pharmacies, requiring no in-person medical supervision, facilitates the isolation of critically vulnerable pregnant women, and invites more risk, pain, and trauma," he said. "It may also result in new violations of conscience for pharmacy workers who cannot dispense such drugs. The FDA should protect the life and health of both mothers and children, not loosen safety standards under industry or political pressures.
"We call on the Administration to correct its policy priorities and stand with mothers in need," Burbidge added. "They deserve better.”
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said: “The Biden administration has once again proved that it values abortion industry profits over women’s safety and unborn children’s lives."
"Abortion activists want to turn every post office and pharmacy into an abortion business, and the Biden FDA is a willing participant -- even while studies show emergency rooms are being flooded with women suffering from serious, life-threatening complications caused by abortion drugs,” Dannenfelser said. “Chemical abortion pills can cause dangerous complications including hemorrhage and infection, and complications are more likely when pills are dispensed without medical screening or follow-up care."
Dannenfelser said that some pro-life governors “understand this threat, which is why many states have enacted safeguards to protect women and their unborn children."
"State lawmakers and Congress must stand as a bulwark against the Biden administration’s pro-abortion extremism," Dannenfelser said. "We hope to see the FDA do its job to protect the lives of women and put an end to chemical abortions.”