A federal judge has suspended a regulation requiring women to visit a doctor in person to obtain mifepristone, a drug used to induce an abortion up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang ruled Monday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's requirement for an in-person visit is a "substantial obstacle" and, during the coronavirus pandemic, is probably unconstitutional.
"By causing certain patients to decide between forgoing or substantially delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, the In-Person Requirements present a serious burden to many abortion patients," Chuang wrote in his decision.
Under his ruling, a health care provider can order mifepristone for delivery to a patient, as long as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency.
An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups that sued to upend the regulation, called the decision "a tremendous victory for abortion patients and for science and common sense."
Ten states had sought intervention in the suit, claiming its outcome could affect the way their governments administer state laws. The judge rejected that claim and said the states could regulate mifepristone "above and beyond" requirements imposed by the FDA.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, expressed disappointment at the ruling.
"The current FDA regulations are reasonable and necessary to protect women from serious and potentially life-threatening complications of abortion drugs, including intense pain, heavy bleeding, infection, and even death," Dannenfelser said.
An FDA website on mifepristone describes potential side effects of the drug as including heavy vaginal bleeding, nausea, weakness, fever, chills, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and dizziness.