US Attorney General says states cannot ban FDA-approved abortion drug

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US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the US Department of Justice will “work tirelessly to protect and advance reproductive freedom” after the US Supreme Court struck down constitutional protections for abortion, reversing 50 years of abortion rights.

A statement from his office on 24 June warned states that they cannot ban the medication abortion drug mifepristone, as Republican legislators introduce dozens of proposals restricting the availability of approved prescription drugs to terminate a pregnancy.

President Joe Biden has also directed the US Department of Health and Human Services “to protect women’s access to critical medications for reproductive health care” including “essential preventive health care like contraception and medication abortion.”

Medication abortion is by far the most common form of abortion care in the US, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of all procedures. The drug was approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration in most cases up to 10 weeks of pregnancy in 2000. A two-drug regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol – drugs that are available over the counter in some countries – is overwhelmingly safe and effective.

Last year, the FDA permanently lifted the in-person requirement for medication abortion prescriptions, allowing patients to access the drugs via telehealth appointments and online pharmacies so patients can take the drugs at home.

A statement from the White House says the president instructed health officials “to identify all ways to ensure that mifepristone is as widely accessible” following “threats from state officials saying they will try to ban or severely restrict access to medication for reproductive health care.”

Mr Garland said the Justice Department stands “ready to work with other arms of the federal government that seek to use their lawful authorities to protect and preserve access to reproductive care.”

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone,” he said. “States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy.”

Within the last few months, Republican legislators across the US filed more than 100 bills to restrict the availability and distribution of medication abortion drugs, or to ban them altogether, drawing a new line in the GOP’s war on abortion rights, as the end of Roe protections shifts the battle to state legislatures and state courts.

Nineteen states require a clinician providing medication abortion to be physically present when the drugs are administered, effectively banning telemedicine appointments to prescribe the medication.

The drugs also are commonly used to treat miscarriages, which occur in roughly one in every 10 pregnancies. Mifepristone and misoprostol are the only drugs recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to treat an early pregnancy loss.

Advocates and physicians have warned that restrictions on access to the drugs could lead to dangerous health consequences for women seeking care.

Mr Garland said the Justice Department will work to provide supprot for providers and people seeking abortions in states that will continue to allow them.

He also said that federal agencies “may continue to provide reproductive health services to the extent authorized by federal law” adding that “federal employees who carry out their duties by providing such services must be allowed to do so free from the threat of liability.”

The Supreme Court’s decision “deals a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States,” he said. “It will have an immediate and irreversible impact on the lives of people across the country. And it will be greatly disproportionate in its effect – with the greatest burdens felt by people of colour and those of limited financial means.”

The Justice Department will “use every tool at our disposal to protect reproductive freedom,” he said. “And we will not waver from this department’s founding responsibility to protect the civil rights of all Americans.”

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