ACLU Sues to Expand Medical Abortion Access

Medical abortion, in which patients take two tablets to terminate a pregnancy at up to ten weeks, is a low-risk, minimally invasive and very effective abortion procedure.

In 2000, the FDA approved the use of RU-486, or Mifeprex — a commonly-used medication. The decision marked a revolution in abortion care, except for one problem: A forest of regulations sprouted up to make it hard to get.

Now, the ACLU is suing. The civil rights organization, as well as the health care providers it represents, claims that these barriers to access are unreasonable and unjust. It couldn’t come at a better time in the national conversation about abortion, with a growing number of states enacting increasingly labyrinthine laws to restrict access, and the House voting to pass a federal 20-week ban.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the overall abortion rate in the United States is falling — and around 80 percent of abortions take place at or before 10 weeks, with most eligible for medication abortion. In 2014, 31 percent of non-hospital abortions were medical in nature, rather than surgical — using vacuum aspiration or dilation and curettage, depending on the gestational age of the pregnancy.

While medication abortion involves pills, you can’t get them at a pharmacy, thanks to FDA regulations: Those seeking an abortion must visit a clinic, and use a certified provider. The FDA maintains that these rules promote patient safety, but the ACLU disagrees, as do organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They argue that there’s no compelling evidence to support these tight regulations, and it’s time to lift them.

For providers, the regulations can make it challenging to offer medication abortion, and they may opt to skip it, despite the advantages to patients.

For patients, having to see a specific provider adds to the cost and time required to get an abortion, causing undue emotional and financial stress. In some cases, it may even be logistically impossible for a patient to get care, as in Hawaii, where some patients must fly to a different island.

Delaying access to medication abortion also increases the risk that a patient’s pregnancy will be too far advanced to use this option by the time they access a health care provider. That means enduring a more expensive and invasive surgical procedure — or, if the patient is forced to wait too long, being left with no options at all. Research has found that in areas with more restrictive abortion regulations and laws, health outcomes tend to be poorer.

The ACLU cites Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedta key federal case that struck down harsh abortion regulations in Texas on the grounds that the state failed to demonstrate their medical necessity. Historically, the Supreme Court has agreed that abortion is a right, and that “undue burden” in the form of harsh regulations should not be allowed to interfere with access to medical care.

This suit was filed in a federal court in Hawaii, and the ACLU hopes to set a precedent. While litigating abortion rights may seem futile at a time when conservatives control so much of government, that’s precisely what makes it imperative. Reproductive rights are a form of civil liberty — and, as such, the judicial branch is constitutionally obliged to defend them.

If you want to keep your eye on the case, it’s Chelius v. WrightSince the Trump administration has repeatedly complained about excessive regulations and campaigned to dismantle federal rules, they’d certainly be hypocritical if they decided to file a brief in defense of the FDA’s stance.

Photo credit: Kate Ausburn

37 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie s2 days ago

Gives a bit of hope. Signed

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Elaine W
Elaine W8 days ago

Blessings on the ALCU and thanks.

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Jen S
Jen S10 days ago

Petition signed with continued support for Planned Parenthood and thanks to the ACLU.

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Elaine W
Elaine W11 days ago

Petition signed hopefully.

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One Heart i
One Heart i12 days ago

Thanks!!!

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Jen S
Jen S13 days ago

Signed. I like the ACLU; they are a voice in the wilderness with the idiot in the White House.

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Mike R
Mike R13 days ago

Petition signed, thanks

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Mike R
Mike R13 days ago

Petition signed, thanks

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Sue H
Sue H14 days ago

May the ACLU prevail! STOP the War on Women!!

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Winn A
Winn A15 days ago

Thanks

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