INDIANAPOLIS — On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration said it would permanently remove a restriction on medication used to terminate pregnancies.
Millions of Americans seeking an abortion will now be able to get a prescription for pills that cause an abortion via an online consultation. The pills can also be received through the mail.
However, a telehealth restriction already implemented by the state legislature back in 2013 prevents Hoosiers seeking abortions from utilizing these new services.
Lisa Humes-Schulz is the vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Indiana, and said Indiana bans medicated abortions up to 10 weeks and has additional requirements that patients be in the care of a physician when seeking abortions.
"The limitations were in place to prevent people from accessing the drug without seeing a patient provider in person," Humes-Schulz said.
The requirement which mandates in-person dispensing has been litigated and upheld multiple times as recently as fall 2021.
FDA officials said a scientific review supported broadening access to the pill, including no longer limiting dispensing to a small number of specialty clinics and doctor’s offices.
The so-called "abortion pills" are really two pills called mifepristone and misoprostol.
They were first became available in 2000. Before then, the primary method of abortion involved emptying the uterus by suction.
Sometimes known as Plan C, the pill work like this: a person wishing to stop a pregnancy takes mifepristone first. That first pill stops the pregnancy from progressing by blocking the hormone progesterone. Then, 48 hours later, the person takes misoprostol, the second pill. It empties the uterus by causing cramping and bleeding.
The medication is also sometimes used to aid women who experienced a miscarriage.
The pill is not an option in the second trimester of pregnancy, and only approved by the FDA up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. They cost an average of $500, as opposed to surgical abortions which can range from $523 to $1,725.
Hoosiers can still get access to these pills, but the the telehealth abortion restriction means they must be obtained by a provider.
Across the country, medication abortion accounted for more 39% of all abortions in the United States in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
In 2014, they accounted for 49% of all abortions.
In Indiana, that number is higher. Drug-induced abortions made up 55% of those performed in Indiana in 2020, according to the state health department.
Indiana's ban on telemedicine consultations between doctors and women seeking abortions, along with several other abortion restrictions, were reversed briefly in August 2021 when U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a permanent injunction against the telemedicine ban.
It was upheld again shortly after, after a federal appeals court set aside a judge's ruling that they were unconstitutional on Wednesday, September 9.
The FDA's policy shift comes as advocates on both sides of the abortion debate wait to see whether the conservative Supreme Court will weaken or even overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that guarantees the right to abortion nationwide.
More than a dozen Republican-led states have since passed measures targeting the new policy since it was announced.
Indiana is one of 19 states that currently bans telemedicine abortion.