Editorial: New FDA abortion pill guidelines could create sweeping changes for women

FDA campus

The Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, Md. in 2015.

(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

The Food and Drug Administration was absolutely right to re-label mifepristone, a drug used to induce abortions, to reflect a regimen already adopted by doctors. The FDA — which hadn’t changed its guidelines on the drug since it was approved for medication-induced abortions in 2000 — now calls for a substantially lower dose of the drug to be administered, and extends the time into pregnancy when it can be used. The agency also now suggests that misoprostol — a second drug used along with mifepristone to complete the abortion process — be taken a day or two later by the woman at home rather than in a doctor’s office. The new guidelines also recommend that qualified healthcare providers, not just doctors, be allowed to dispense the drugs.

That’s the way doctors have been using the drugs for years, saying that the process was safe and efficient and had fewer adverse effects than what the FDA had recommended on the old label. And it is easier for women. The advocacy arm of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists praised the FDA’s change, noting that it aligned with “current available scientific evidence and best practices.”

But the agency’s move presents an interesting situation for states that have passed laws in recent years mandating that doctors performing medication-induced abortions follow the FDA protocols. Although legislators said the aim was to ensure the drugs were used safely, they were more likely intended to make it more difficult and costly for women to get abortions.

Now that the protocols have changed, those legislators’ intentions will be put to the test. If they are serious about protecting women’s health, then the laws they wrote enshrining the FDA guidelines shouldn’t need to be changed. But if they try to amend them to reflect the older, more cumbersome protocols, it will be clear their aim was never to protect women.


In Arizona, the governor has before him a bill that instructs doctors to follow the FDA guidelines that were in place at the end of 2015. In other words, the bill before him instructs doctors to follow an outdated method of medication-induced abortion. That’s absurd. The bill should be vetoed.

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