The Trump administration has urged health care professionals to provide services by telephone throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Along with stemming the spread of coronavirus by limiting in-person consultations, telemedicine provides more efficient care and reduces stress — but only for some patients, apparently. The Trump administration is still forcing patients to pick up abortion medications in person. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing over the policy.
During the pandemic, many patients are able to receive medication from a mail-order pharmacy. With telemedicine allowing people to see their doctors from home, they don't need to step outside for necessary health care and can better comply with social distancing orders. However, the Food and Drug Administration placed restrictions on mifepristone, one of the drugs used to medically induce an abortion, that makes this process impossible to obtain the drug.
On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. The ACLU stated that the FDA requires patients to go to a hospital, clinic, or medical office to pick up mifepristone, and that this mandate means patients "must incur unnecessary COVID-19 risk and travel to one of these clinical settings to pick up the pill — even when they will be receiving no in-person medical services at that time and will swallow the pill later at home (as the FDA permits)."
Per the ACLU, the mifepristone is the only drug that the FDA requires people to pick up in-person while also allowing them to self-administer outside of those settings. Additionally, the lawsuit stated these restrictions only apply if someone is using mifepristone for an abortion; the drug can be used to treat certain hormonal diseases, and it can ordered by mail for this use.
"Restrictions like this fall hardest on people with low incomes and people of color, especially now, when the pandemic is killing Black and Brown people at alarming rates," the ACLU tweeted. The organization added: "Throughout this pandemic, the federal government has made it easier for patients to get medical care without unnecessary trips to the doctor that put patients' health at risk. The FDA has singled out medication abortion for no medical reason. We'll see them in court."
Since the pandemic began, its impact on reproductive health services has become a key area of concern. Last month, a United Nations report found the pandemic will be particularly disastrous for women. The report predicted at the time that if lockdown continued for an additional six months, domestic violence rates would continue to rise, and there would be 7 million unplanned pregnancies.
Preserving reproductive health services is fundamental for people's health. But instead, the Trump administration demanded the United Nations remove abortion access from its pandemic response plan. John Barsa, the acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stating that "the United States stands with nations that have pledged to protect the unborn."
"[Sexual and reproductive health and rights] is and has always has been a critical part of any humanitarian response; lives depend upon it. The health needs of women and girls do not stop because we are in the middle of an emergency. In fact, they increase," Michelle Nunn, the president and CEO of CARE USA, tweeted in response.
Along with the federal administration targeting abortions, Texas and Ohio both dubbed abortions to be "non-essential" services during coronavirus, limiting access to the procedure. In late March, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton essentially put abortions on hold for nearly a month.
"Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care that must remain available during this pandemic — particularly because every pregnancy is unique and brings significant health risks," Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Mic in an email. "The crisis also exposes the cruelty of anti-abortion policies that have unjustifiably shut down clinics in many states."
The ACLU is representing a number of organizations in its lawsuit, including the New York State Academy of Family Physicians and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
"Because of longstanding disparities in access to and quality of health care and other manifestations of structural racism, Black and brown people are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions that increase the likelihood of severe illness and death from COVID-19," Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, said in a statement.
"It is unconscionable that the FDA is subjecting women of color, who are disproportionately represented among patients seeking abortion and miscarriage care, to life-threatening viral risks as a condition of obtaining these urgent reproductive health services," she continued.