Reproductive Rights In Red States Grow Stronger, Thanks To FDA

The FDA just clipped the wings of red state legislatures.
Cartoon by Paul Fell Cartoons

Reproductive rights in Arizona, Arkansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Ohio just got stronger, thanks to new rules released on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Red States Used The FDA To Restrict Reproductive Rights

All five states have passed laws requiring physicians to adhere to outdated FDA rules on the administration of the “abortion pill,” mifepristone. The guidelines are printed on the packages of the medication, which is used to induce abortions. However, the original rules are 16 years old and were based on research in the 1990’s — before the drug was even approved for use.

The protocol was so restrictive — requiring three doctors’ visits, and only to be used in the 7th week of pregnancy or sooner — that the above red states passed laws forcing physicians to adhere to it. Elsewhere, physicians have taken the protocol as a recommendation and made the process much simpler for women.

The new guidelines conform more closely to both current research and actual physician experience. Doctors already knew that the dose required to induce an abortion was much less than originally recommended. The new dosage is 200 milligrams, instead of 600, which results in fewer side effects. Also, instead of returning to the doctor to get the second necessary drug, misoprostol, a day or two later, it can be dispensed to the woman during the original visit and taken at home.

The drug can now be prescribed by a health care provider that could include a nurse or a physician’s assistant. Some of the states have mandated that the drug be administered only by a licensed physician. Abortion rights advocates say that the second visit, a follow-up 7-14 days after the procedure, could be as simple as a lab test.

The Biggest Win Is For Women In Rural States Like Texas

Perhaps the most significant change is that the drugs are now recommended for women who are as much as 10 weeks pregnant, giving those in restrictive states far more leeway in exercising their reproductive rights.

Some of the states’ laws have been tied up in court. Ohio passed their law in 2004 but it didn’t take effect until 2011 because of a court battle. From 2010 to 2011, when the law took effect, medication-induced abortions fell 75%.

Arizona’s legislature just passed a law that hasn’t been signed by Gov. Doug Ducey yet. That law would require physicians to adhere to the previous, now outdated, FDA protocol. Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, who is also a physician, said that, if the Republican governor signs the law:

“[Physicians] will have to choose to either disregard their Hippocratic oath or disregard the law. They will not be following the FDA recommendations if this bill becomes law. I’m hoping this information makes it to the Governor’s Office to help him decide to veto this bill.”

Most of the country’s women have been able to take advantage of the availability of medication-induced abortion ever since the year 2000. As many as 25% of all abortions in the U.S. in 2011 were of this sort, providing women with an alternative that is as safe to use as Tylenol or Viagra.

Predictably, abortion opponents insisted that the use of the abortion pill puts women at risk. Troy Newman, president of the Kansas-based group Operation Rescue, called its use “exploitative and predatory” of “vulnerable women” — presumably all women, who are viewed by such control-obsessed organizations as helpless victims incapable of making their own decisions.

But more legitimate sources — those who are in the trenches daily, dealing with the reality of unwanted pregnancies — are overjoyed at the probable consequences for women. Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, was “delighted.” She said:

“What will change is that politicians can no longer deny women access to this safe and effective method of early abortion care by insisting on an outdated regimen.”

Rural areas — such as most of Texas — are among the greatest beneficiaries because women no longer have to seek care from surgical abortion providers, which are largely inaccessible to them.

Cheaper, safer, more available — that’s a lot of empowerment for women whose state governments have tried to deprive them of their reproductive rights.

Feature photo by Paul Fell Cartoons.

About Deborah Montesano 72 Articles
Deborah Montesano is a political writer and activist, living the liberal dream in Portland, Oregon. It's well deserved after freeing herself from a long, hard slog in ultra-conservative Arizona. The harsh desert honed her far-left sensibilities, but she is now wearing off the brittle edges by lounging along the Columbia River and gorging herself at food trucks. Above all: “I am, and always have been a progressive woman.” (Belva Lockwood)

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