The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it will permanently allow patients to receive abortion pills by mail, expanding access to abortion as the Supreme Court grapples with the future of Roe v. Wade.
The new rule could help some women circumvent restrictions on abortion in states like Texas, where patients must pick up the medication in person and can’t acquire it through a telehealth appointment.
During the pandemic, the FDA temporarily eased restrictions on mifepristone — which taken together with another medication called misoprostol ends an early pregnancy — so that patients could temporarily order the pills by mail.
The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic spurred greater access to the regimen, which was approved by the FDA in 2016 to terminate pregnancies up to 70 days gestation.
Thursday’s move comes as the Supreme Court scrutinizes abortion access, and as several GOP-led states have taken steps to ban access to abortion medication through telehealth services.
The Biden administration in May said it would review requirements for mifepristone. The previous year, a group of doctors and advocates, led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, challenged the previous FDA restrictions on receiving abortion pills by mail.
The FDA temporarily lifted the restrictions on mifepristone in July 2020, in response to a court order that was later reversed by the Supreme Court. The restrictions on mifepristone were again rolled back on a temporary basis by the FDA in April of this year.
The FDA has said the regimen is largely safe, and that it’s the most common method for ending a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks. The likelihood of complications is less than 1 percent, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Nearly 4 million patients have taken the drug regimen since 2000, with only about 24 associated deaths as of 2018, the FDA said. The agency cautioned, however, that those deaths, could not be causally linked to the drug with certainty because of the patients’ use of other drugs, receipt of medical or surgical treatments, or their co-existing medical conditions and information gaps about their health status.
The battle over access to mifepristone comes amid a legal fight at the highest level over other abortion restrictions. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion providers in Texas can move forward with their lawsuit challenging a near-total abortion ban in the state. But it kept the law in effect while the legal fight plays out.
Texas also passed a law earlier this year that would further tighten restrictions on the pill, narrowing the window for its use from up to the 10th week of pregnancy to the seventh, and prohibiting the drug from being mailed.
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.