HAWAII — Women should be able to get abortion-inducing drugs at their local pharmacies in addition to abortion facilities, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues in a new lawsuit.
The group sued on behalf of a Hawaii abortionist and three medical entities against federal regulations of the drug RU-486, also known as mifepristone and the brand name Mifeprex.
The drug works with the drug misoprostol to cut off nutrients to babies during early pregnancy and send the mother into labor.
Under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations of Mifeprex, abortionists must order, carry and dispense the drug themselves or send women to a clinic, medical office or hospital that carries it. The FDA relaxed the regulations on Mifeprex in 2016 by allowing abortionists to administer it later in pregnancy than before and removing the requirement that the companion drug, misoprostol, be administered at an abortion facility.
Some abortionists have difficulty stocking the abortion drugs, the ACLU said, and the FDA should loosen the restrictions on mifepristone even further.
“Once a woman has been prescribed Mifeprex, there is no medical benefit to requiring that the pill be handed to her at a medical office, clinic, or hospital rather than handed to her at her local pharmacy or via a mail-order pharmacy,” the suit states.
But pro-life advocates disagree: The drug is risky enough for women without further easing of restrictions.
“The marketing spin is to repeat the mantra of ‘safe’ over and over again when the reality is, these are dangerous drugs,” Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said. “Women have died from them. Women have hemorrhaged from them. Women have had to have emergency surgery. These are not safe.”
ACLU of Hawaii director Mateo Caballero called the drug a “safe, proven method to end a pregnancy,” and said the FDA’s requirements were “politically motivated.”
But Harrison cited a 2009 Finnish study that compared 42,619 surgical and chemical abortions over six years. Researchers found that women who had chemical abortions had a 20 percent chance of “adverse events” that included hemorrhage and incomplete abortion, while women who had surgical abortion faced a 5.6 percent chance of complications.
National Right to Life’s Randall O’Bannon pointed out that the FDA initially took measures to inform women of the risks of complications from abortion drugs and only relaxed its standards after “bowing to the abortion lobby.”
“The ACLU and the abortion lobby don’t like the FDA reminding women of those risks, and they want the drugs available from every pharmacy in the country,” O’Bannon said. “Anything that allows prescribers or patients to be less informed of the risks or less attuned to the warning signs — which is what the changes the ACLU and the abortion industry seeks would do — is grossly irresponsible and dangerous.”
The lawsuit, if successful, would also affect pharmacists with conscientious objections to dispensing mifepristone. In 2015, Christian business owners in Washington who protested stocking their pharmacy with emergency contraceptives Plan B and Ella lost a federal appeal in Stormans Inc. v. Weisman. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
— by Samantha Gobba