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FDA Rule Change Lessens the Sting of Texas Anti-Abortion Law

On Wednesday the federal Food and Drug Administration effectively killed one of the more subtle barriers to abortion access created by Texas House Bill 2, the sweeping anti-abortion law Wendy Davis famously tried to kill with an 11-hour filibuster.

Among the many restrictions buried in HB 2 was a requirement that Texas abortion doctors adhere to what the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have called antiquated prescribing recommendations by the FDA for medication abortion. Until Wednesday, those recommendations included taking both components of the medication in the presence of your doctor. So, coupled with Texas’s sonogram law, that meant four trips to a clinic for women seeking a medication abortion – initial consultation (mandated by sonogram law), one trip each for both pills and then a follow-up appointment.

Naturally, the number of medication abortions in Texas plummeted as half of the state’s abortion clinics shuttered following HB 2’s rollout. Whole Women’s Health tells the Houston Chronicle that drug-induced abortions used to make up 40 percent of procedures, but are now down to 5 percent. Planned Parenthood says its share of medication abortions have seen a similar drop.

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The FDA’s rule change states that women can now take the second pill at a “location appropriate for the patient,” like at home, meaning women seeking drug-induced abortion in Texas will now only have to deal with three instead of four visits to a doctor. The change also expanded the time window for seeking a medication abortion.

The change comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers how far Texas lawmakers can restrict abortion, a case that could redefine whether women at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder have the right to choose. Early this month, the high court heard oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by abortion providers who call HB 2 an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose.

Should the court allow the law to be fully implemented, it’s expected only nine of ten clinics will survive, clustered only in the state’s major metro areas. The plaintiffs argue that, should the court uphold the law, nearly 1 million Texas women would live so far from those surviving clinics that obtaining an abortion would be arduous, if not impossible, because any number of factors, like socioeconomic status or the threat of domestic violence. 

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