Jan 10, 2023 - News

What Arkansans should know after the FDA expanded abortion pill access

Illustration of four hands reaching for the same pill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The recent decision to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill do not make it significantly easier to obtain the drug in Arkansas, Jill Wieber Lens, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, tells Axios.

Driving the news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a regulatory change last week allowing pharmacies to offer medication abortion rather than requiring patients to get the pills directly from medical providers. The Department of Justice clarified last week that the U.S. Postal Service can deliver abortion pills by mail anywhere, regardless of state or local abortion laws.

Reality check: "It's not at all clear that many or all or most pharmacies, or pharmacies in more rural areas, or pharmacies in 'red' states, will do so in ways that meaningfully increases access to medication abortion," Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said in an email last week to CNN.

  • Also, "mail order pharmacies have already been dispensing pills with the FDA's permission," Litman wrote. "So the possibility of getting medication abortion existed before this latest decision."

State of play: Providing an abortion is illegal in Arkansas, except in cases of ectopic pregnancy, to save the pregnant person's life or to remove a fetus with no heartbeat. The law went into effect after the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing the constitutional right to abortion.

  • However, the exception that allows an abortion to save a patient's life can put doctors in positions of deciding how close to death a patient must be, while facing possible jail time.
  • Doctors were previously allowed to prescribe abortion pills to patients whose pregnancies were expected to end in miscarriage. Now, patients must wait to miscarry unless there is no heartbeat.

But, but, but: There is little the state can do to prevent Arkansas residents from getting abortion pills by mail from international pharmacies.

Of note: There are no legal consequences for a pregnant person who takes an abortion pill in Arkansas, Lens said.

  • Abortion pills induce miscarriage and are authorized for use during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
  • About 53% of abortions in the U.S. are performed with pills.

What to watch: So far, no bills have been filed regarding abortion pills this legislative session. Filing began in November and the session began Monday.


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