As the United States Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said Monday it has begun offering abortion pills by mail to qualifying state residents.
The agency said the relatively new ways to access abortion will remove “unnecessary barriers to health care” and also expand access to underserved areas of the state.
“Now more than ever, it is crucial that our patients can access the care they need, when and where they need it,” Dr. Amy Whitaker, the agency’s chief medical officer, said in a press release. .
In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed longstanding medical abortion regulations, allowing abortion pills to be distributed through the mail in some states, including Illinois.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois providers have been ordering medical abortions through telehealth visits since 2021, according to the press release, but the patient still had to go to a clinic to pick up the prescription, per FDA rules.
Now that the regulations have been overturned, Illinois patients eligible for medical abortion can since April have the pills mailed to their in-state address, in many cases eliminating the need to travel to a physical facility. . , Planned Parenthood of Illinois said Monday.
Patients still need a prescription for the pills, which can be provided during a telehealth visit. Medical abortion is generally used in early pregnancy, usually up to 11 weeks gestation.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois said the new program will help “expand capacity for patients who still need in-person services and those who are forced to travel here from other states.”
Patients from other states can still access abortion pills, but must travel to Illinois to have telehealth or the in-person visit and then pick up the medication at an Illinois clinic, according to Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Medical abortions now account for more than half of all terminated pregnancies in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproductive rights. But the majority of states have restrictions on abortion pills.
In 19 states, the provider must be physically present when the drug is administered, except for the use of telehealth services. According to the Guttmacher Institute, some states introduced legislation this year that would ban the use of medical abortions or the sending of pills.
Illinois has none of these restrictions.
In an interview late last year, Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, lamented the FDA policy reversal, saying “the policy change is tragic because it leads to more abortions.”
“Illinois has embraced a new identity as the abortion capital of the Midwest, especially as the landscape changes in other states,” he said. “I expect to see Illinois become a major source of abortion pills for the entire region, both legally and clandestinely. Unfortunately, neither the public nor policy makers can say for sure where these abortion pills really end up.
Earlier this month, a leaked draft opinion said the Supreme Court planned to strike down federal abortion rights. For nearly half a century, the landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade established the right to terminate a pregnancy nationwide.
Without Roe, the issue of abortion rights would be left to individual states; Reproductive rights experts predict that about half the nation would severely restrict or ban abortion, including nearly all of the Midwest.
Illinois has long been considered a haven for abortion access, with strong reproductive rights protections. The number of patients traveling from other states to Illinois has increased every year since 2014, with nearly 10,000 out-of-state patients in 2020, according to the most recent data available from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Illinois.
If federal abortion rights are revoked, Planned Parenthood of Illinois has estimated that an additional 20,000 to 30,000 out-of-state patients will come here to terminate a pregnancy each year.
Medical abortions have been available in the United States since 2000.
The process involves taking two drugs: First, the patient takes mifepristone, which blocks the hormone progesterone and stops the pregnancy.
The FDA had long required that the first pill be dispensed in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office.
About a day or two later, the patient takes the second drug, misoprostol, which causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus. This pill is usually taken by the patient at home.
But in May 2020, at the height of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the FDA’s requirements for mifepristone, partly due to an urgent need to avoid unnecessary travel and exposure to the virus.
The FDA was ordered by the court to relax the regulations over the following summer, but President Donald Trump’s administration challenged the reversal and the Supreme Court reinstated the regulations.
In April 2021, the FDA announced that it would temporarily not enforce restrictions and allow the shipment of abortion pills during the pandemic, citing the unprecedented need for access to abortion.
The federal agency permanently lifted those restrictions in December, paving the way for programs like the one Planned Parenthood of Illinois launched.
“There are over 20 years of data demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of medical abortion using mifepristone,” Whitaker said in the press release. “Not only is it a safe method, but it also increases access to care, especially for people of color, people living in rural areas, and low-income people who already face barriers to care. .”
In southern Illinois, another affiliate of Planned Parenthood began offering mail-order medical abortion and telehealth services in July 2020.
“We really believe that people should have the abortion experience they want, and that can mean a number of different things,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer of Reproductive Health Services at Planned. Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. Tribune at the time.
A clinician verifies that the patient is in Illinois during the telehealth visit and that the medication is being shipped to an Illinois address, she said. A health checkup checks for any medical issues the patient might have as well as the progress of the pregnancy at that stage, to ensure the patient is eligible for medical abortion, she added.
“People really like getting their health care through telehealth,” she told the Tribune in December. “Whether it’s a visit to their cardiologist or an abortion, if they can take it from their couch, a lot of people really prefer the comfort and ease of that visit in their own space.”