This week, a federal judge in Maryland ruled that people can now access abortion pills through the mail during the pandemic, rather than having to visit a doctor, clinic or hospital.
But the ruling won’t change anything for Louisiana women and abortion patients.
This is because Louisiana has its own law requiring abortion patients to attend the clinic in person before receiving the medication. Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office confirmed to WWNO/WRKF that the decision will have no impact on access to medical abortion in the state.
The decision came after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and others sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this year over rules requiring in-person visits in order to getting the pills during the coronavirus outbreak, despite the agency’s push for widespread adoption of telehealth.
The lawsuit argued that HHS singled out mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in medical abortions, and called the in-person requirement “medically unnecessary,” a pandemic or no pandemic.
US District Judge Theodore Chuang said the requirement had created a “substantial barrier” to abortion access during the outbreak.
“By forcing some patients to choose between forgoing or significantly delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, in-person demands place a heavy burden on many many aborted patients,” Chuang wrote.
Medical abortion is used in early pregnancy. It is approved for use up to 10 weeks of gestational age by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Louisiana was among 10 states in the South and Midwest that sought to intervene in the case because, they said, it would undermine states with laws requiring in-person medical abortions. These states include Mississippi and Alabama, which are currently experiencing dramatic increases in coronavirus cases. The judge denied the request and said the decision would not interfere with state laws that go beyond federal requirements.
Louisiana is one of 18 states whose laws require medical abortion to be performed by a physician and that physician be physically present when the patient takes the first pill. Many abortion rights groups argue that these requirements are onerous and designed to restrict access to abortion.
Following the ruling, ACOG President Eva Chalas called mifepristone a “safe drug” and said the “FDA’s in-person dispensing requirements provide no medical benefit to patients.”
“The FDA’s onerous requirement for in-person distribution of mifepristone has had a disproportionate effect on communities hardest hit by the pandemic, including communities of color who already face existing inequities and barriers. structural to care,” she said.