WASHINGTON (BP)—The Biden administration approved distribution of abortion pills by retail pharmacies in a regulation issued on the same day a Southern Baptist entity joined other organizations in urging Congress to adopt pro-life policies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed the barrier-breaking change to its rules Tuesday, Jan. 3. The revision enables FDA-certified pharmacies for the first time to carry and dispense mifepristone, the first drug in a two-step process commonly referred to as medical or chemical abortion. Women also will continue to be able to receive the pills by mail.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and 40 other pro-life organizations sent a letter Tuesday that called on members of Congress to seek a “robust pro-life agenda” through the passage of new laws and the protection of spending measures that must be approved each year.
The FDA’s decision to expand the distribution of mifepristone is the latest in a series of actions taken by President Biden and his administration in an effort to minimize the effect of the Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. In June 2022, the high court returned abortion policy to the states by overturning Roe, which legalized abortion throughout the country.
Pro-life advocates objected to the FDA change.
ERLC President Brent Leatherwood told Baptist Press, “In describing the supposed benefits of this move, a medical professional this morning applauded the wider availability of these drugs that will ‘expel the pregnancy tissue’ from a mother. What utterly dehumanizing language about the loss of a baby’s life! It is more evidence of how appallingly casual our culture has become about snuffing out life – whether at the hands of an abortionist or a concoction from drug-makers.”
The FDA’s decision “will only further the view that the creation of life is a mere inconvenience that can be dealt with by discreetly taking a couple of pills,” Leatherwood said by email. “In the post-Roe era, we have an opportunity to create a true culture of life across our land. That will only take root when our society understands something well known to Baptists: ‘Children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord.’”
March for Life President Jeanne Mancini called the action “simply heartbreaking.”
“Access to chemical abortion without proper medical oversight runs contrary to science and is not in the best interest of women’s health,” she said on Twitter.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider, applauded the FDA announcement. President Alexis McGill Johnson described it as “a step in the right direction” and “a game changer for people trying to access basic health care.”
Medical/chemical procedures as a percentage of all abortions have increased dramatically the last two decades. They rose between 2001 and 2020 from five percent of all abortions to 53 percent, the Guttmacher Institute reported Dec. 1.
Mifepristone, often known as RU 486 and authorized by the FDA under President Clinton in 2000, causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child, resulting in his or her death. It is approved for use in the first 10 weeks of gestation. Misoprostol, a drug approved by the FDA to treat ulcers, is typically taken one to two days later and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the body.
Pro-life supporters have opposed approval of the abortion pill not only because it kills a preborn child but because of risks it poses to a woman’s life and health.
In a newly updated page on its website, the FDA said mifepristone is safe when used according to its guidelines in the first 10 weeks of gestation. It acknowledged, however, that the deaths of 28 women who took mifepristone had been reported since 2000 as of June 30, 2022. The deaths and other “adverse events” could not “with certainty be causally attributed” to mifepristone, according to the FDA.
Yet, the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI)—a pro-life, research organization—reported in 2021 a new study it conducted found “chemical abortion is consistently and progressively associated with more postabortion [emergency room] visit morbidity than surgical abortion.” An analysis of Medicaid claims information from 17 states that pay for abortions showed the “rate of abortion-related ER visits following a chemical abortion increased 507%” between 2002 and 2015, according to CLI.
In December 2021, the FDA made permanent an announcement earlier in the year that it would not enforce during the COVID-19 pandemic a previous requirement that a woman must appear in person to receive mifepristone. As with a pharmacy that dispenses mifepristone, a health-care provider who prescribes the drug must be certified. A follow-up visit with a health-care provider is called for one to two weeks after a woman takes mifepristone, but this can be fulfilled through a telemedicine appointment.
In the Tuesday letter, pro-life leaders told senators and representatives they “cannot squander the opportunity to advance policies that protect innocent life in the first Congress to convene in post-Roe America.”
The House is now controlled by Republicans, while the Senate remains in Democratic control.
Among the bills that letter signers expect the House to approve is the SAVE Moms and Babies Act, which would prohibit changes in labeling for abortion drugs and bar providers from distributing the pills by mail or telemedicine. Other legislation the signers said they expect the House to pass include:
- The Heartbeat Protection Act, which would outlaw abortion when a preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected.
- The Born-alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require medical care for a child born alive during an abortion.
- The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would bar federal money from paying for abortions.
The letter also calls for approval once again of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds in Medicaid and other programs from paying for abortions, and other pro-life “riders” to spending bills that must be passed each year.
The House’s Republican leadership has reportedly scheduled votes on some of the pro-life proposals early in the new session.
In addition to Leatherwood and Mancini, other signers of the letter led by The Heritage Foundation included Heritage President Kevin Roberts; Marjorie Dannenfelser, president, Susan B. Anthony Pro-life America; Catherine Glenn Foster, president, Americans United for Life; Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council; Ryan Anderson, president, The Ethics and Public Policy Center; and Lila Rose, president, Live Action.
Pro-life advocates have long opposed the legalization of mifepristone. The ERLC and other pro-life organizations worked to prevent the introduction of the abortion pill into the United States for more than a decade before the FDA gave its approval. In 2020, then-ERLC President Russell Moore and more than 20 other pro-life leaders called for the FDA to categorize mifepristone as an “imminent hazard to the public health” and to withdraw it from the market because of its threat to women as well as unborn children.
Nine days before the Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2022, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting adopted a resolution that called on the justices to overturn Roe. The resolution also urged state legislators to pass “pro-life policies that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, including both vulnerable women and children.”