Medication abortion became legal in the United States in 2000, when mifepristone was approved by the F.D.A. The agency imposed tight restrictions on the drug, many of which remain in place. But access to the method increased in 2016, when the F.D.A. expanded the time frame within which the drug could be taken — from seven weeks to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.
As conservative states began passing more laws restricting access to surgical abortions, more patients opted for pills, especially because they can be taken in the privacy of one’s home.
The Covid pandemic fueled that trend. The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, reported that in 2020, medication abortion accounted for 54 percent of all abortions.
Early in the pandemic, medical groups filed a lawsuit asking the F.D.A. to lift its requirement that mifepristone, which blocks a hormone crucial to the continuation of a pregnancy, be dispensed to patients in person at a clinic or doctor’s office. Citing years of data showing that medication abortion is safe, the medical groups said that patients faced a greater risk of being infected with the coronavirus if they had to visit clinics to obtain mifepristone.
For portions of the pandemic, the F.D.A. temporarily lifted the in-person requirement, then permanently removed it in December. In addition, the agency said pharmacies could begin dispensing mifepristone if they met certain qualifications. The agency is in the process of hammering out those qualifications with the two manufacturers of the drug, and reproductive health organizations said that some national retail pharmacy chains have expressed interest in being able to dispense the medication in some states, at least by mail.
The second medication, misoprostol, which causes contractions similar to those of a miscarriage and is taken up to 48 hours later, has long been available for a variety of uses with a typical prescription.
Understand the State of Roe v. Wade
A senior Biden administration official said this week that officials are looking for further steps the administration can take to increase access to all types of abortion, including the pill method. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the leaked Supreme Court decision, said that President Biden directed his team “at every aspect in every creative way, every aspect of federal law, to try to do all that’s possible” to protect abortion rights.