Earlier this month a restrictive Texas abortion law went into effect that essentially bans abortions after six weeks. Now Governor Greg Abbott just signed another state abortion law—one that bans the use of medication abortion after seven weeks, Forbes reports.
The new law, SB 4, heavily restricts the use and distribution of abortion pills and will go into effect on December 2, barring any legal interference. For starters, SB 4 makes it illegal for a health care provider to prescribe abortion pills to a pregnant person after 49 days of pregnancy (seven weeks), which is less than the 70 days (10 weeks) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows.
On top of that, the new legislation also makes it illegal to provide patients with abortion pills by mail, delivery service, or courier. In order to receive a medication abortion in Texas within the legal time frame, patients must now undergo an in-person examination and extensive informed consent process—even while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s commonly known as the abortion pill is actually two medications: First, there’s mifepristone (also called Mifeprex or RU-486). This medication begins the termination process. Then, a day or two later, comes misoprostol, which helps the uterus push the pregnancy out.
These medications are used to safely end pregnancies before 10 weeks. Research suggests they’re safe to use even when prescribed via telemedicine. They do come with the risk for some side effects, such as cramps, bleeding, and nausea, and in rare cases (about 0.3%), they can lead to excessive bleeding or other issues that require hospitalization. But they’re generally considered quite safe medications.
Despite its safety profile, mifepristone is regulated by a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) from the FDA, which prohibits pharmacies from dispensing the medication. The medication can be prescribed only by certain health care providers and can be given to patients only in clinics, hospitals, or doctor’s offices under the supervision of a health care provider. Some states also require the doctor to be physically in the room with the patient while they take mifepristone, the Guttmacher Institute explains.
During the pandemic though, an FDA investigation did not find any increase in medication abortion-related complications when it decided not to enforce the requirement for an in-person visit to access the medications. So the new Texas medication abortion ban is yet another law that restricts access to safe, necessary health care. And even for those who can still access medication abortion in Texas, the legislation will add unnecessary barriers that make doing so even harder in the middle of an ongoing pandemic.
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