Once again, reproductive rights are in the hands of the government in the case of FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. On Jan. 12, the Supreme Court granted the Trump administration’s request to reinstate federal restrictions on abortion pills that terminate early pregnancies up to 10 weeks. The court’s decision was a 6 – 3 vote, which then waived the Food and Drug Administration’s rule on allowing abortion pills to be mailed out during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing those who get pregnant to pick up their medication in person. The three liberal judges on the Supreme Court objected to this ruling and were the only ones to give a statement on this. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks.” Justice Sotomayor’s opinion was also shared by Justice Elena Kagan, who hopes, with the Biden administration coming in next week, that they will change the policy. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority did not give an explanation for their ruling like they would in common emergency applications. The court’s brief order was also unsigned, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was the only conservative Justice to give an explanation. He said that it wasn’t about abortion, but rather if the courts would be submissive to the FDA, and it is “the court’s own evaluation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This is the first ruling on abortion since Justice Amy Coney Barrett entered the Supreme Court in late 2020, when the issue was last brought to the Supreme Court’s attention. Now, with Justice Barrett on the court, it strengthens the conservative majority, therefore making issues surrounding abortion at risk. This was my biggest fear once Justice Barrett became a part of the Supreme Court, as she is a conservative Catholic woman known to rule against abortions. When Barrett worked for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, she dealt with two cases on abortion and ruled against both. Justice Barrett also has the most extreme extensive anti-abortion record than any Justice confirmed into the Supreme Court since 2006, when Justice Samuel Alito joined the Court. With the majority of the Supreme Court being conservative, it gives them the opportunity to take away our rights to safe and legal abortions. FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is just the start to the regression of reproductive rights.
With the new measures on obtaining the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol, it makes it harder for those who get pregnant to have an abortion, as the pills only work in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Most abortions are done in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, with about 60 percent of impregnated individuals choosing to terminate their pregnancy during this time using the medications. Mifepristone’s job is to stop the effects of the progesterone hormone first in order to break down the lining of the uterus and stop the pregnancy from growing. Secondly, 24 to 48 hours later after taking mifepristone, misoprostol is taken to induce labor and contractions in order to let out its contents from the uterus.
The new restrictions on taking the abortion pill not only make people pick up the two mediations in person, and also sign a form even after consulting with their doctors remotely. This drug is not required to be taken in person under doctor supervision. Thus, people can then take the drug when and where they choose. Back in July of 2020, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups, all represented by the A.C.L.U. appealed to suspend the requirement of having an in-person appointment in order to obtain the two abortion pills due to the current pandemic.
Their argument was that there is no reason to have an in-person appointment to acquire a drug that can be delivered or mailed. I agree with this, as we are in the middle of a pandemic, in which healthcare workers are being overworked due to COVID-19. If we can prevent people from going to the doctor’s for issues that can be easily fixed over the phone, it imposes less risks to both the patient and doctors in the end. With our current circumstances, almost everything is over the phone, or on a computer. Almost all my doctors appointments since late last March have been over the phone, and I have been prescribed medicine with no problem after I explained my symptoms for current health problems without having an actual in-person visit.
Individuals cannot obtain medication to terminate their pregnancy through a telephone appointment, but a government policy allows doctors to prescribe powerful opioids to patients in the comfort of their home. This doesn’t make sense, if opioids can be prescribed through the phone, why can’t these two abortion pills be prescribed the same way? It’s most likely due to the fact that the government doesn’t want those who fall pregnant, primarily, to have rights to their own bodies.
This is what angers me the most, as one of the Trump Administration’s top priorities is to add more restrictions to abortions on their way out the door, thus putting more people in danger than they already have since this pandemic began. According to ACLU, most abortion clinics are running at 20 percent capacity, and are only open for half-days, two times a week. This makes getting in-person appointments nearly impossible if your abortion clinic is closed, or only seeing a few patients a day. Having to wait days, weeks, maybe even months to get an appointment to get medication is horrible. By the time one is able to get the appointment, the 10-week window to take abortion pills may be up, and the only other option is a surgical procedure. This is bad for the clinics, as they are put under large amounts of stress with the new pandemic regulations, and having to do surgical abortions is an added stresser, as they cannot accommodate everyone with reduced capacity.
For millions of people around the country, access to abortion is unattainable: 52.9 million women live within an hour of an abortion clinic, and 11.3 million live more than one-hour drive to the nearest abortion facility. Many states have only a few abortion providers, leaving people to drive hours in order to receive reproductive health assistance. For example, in Missouri, only one abortion clinic is left in St. Louis due to the strict abortion restrictions placed on clinics in their state. Some of the restrictions include requiring clinics to meet standards set for hospitals, and other ones specifically target patients by mandating waiting periods for abortion or limiting insurance coverage. These restrictions are said to be put into place to protect patient’s health, but those who advocate for abortion rights say otherwise, as these restrictions have led to nearly 275 facilities nationwide to close since 2013. With the lack of abortion clinics in the area, there would be a high volume of people needing appointments in order to obtain the reproductive care they need, making it impossible to get an in-person appointment.
The restriction of having a waiting period forces individuals to make two or more trips to a clinic, rather than one. These periods range from 18 hours to three days or more, and includes pre-abortion counseling. According to the Guttmacher, it is medically unnecessary that there be a waiting period to have an abortion, as it is a safe, medical procedure, nothing more. These restrictions are a failure to people’s health and intrude on the patient-provider relationship, as well as not providing the best interests of the patient.
It’s not just about driving the long distances; it’s about the time consumption, too. Not every person has the time to drive an hour or more to a clinic, as they have work, family business, and other obligations in their life. Some simply don’t have the funds to make the travel arrangements to go to a clinic, which puts them at a higher risk for a later abortion. There are so many factors that the Supreme Court and the Trump administration did not take into account because their only goal is to restrict abortion altogether.
No amount of restrictions on abortion will stop the demand of them, as it only strains the resources of clinics in states that have few clinics left. The Supreme Court has failed all the people with uteruses across the nation again by ruling against the case the FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Having an abortion is a legal right, and it should not be restricted in any way, shape, or form. Regulating the abortion pill will not stop abortions; it will only lead to the deaths of many individuals due to unsafe practices.
Every year, seven million people around the world die because of unsafe abortions, according to WHO. If the Supreme Court and policy-makers are so obsessed with protecting life, why don’t they care about the health of those who bear a uterus they are restricting access to healthcare from? Restricting doesn’t mean the end to abortions or pregnancies. Unplanned pregnancies will still happen, and so will abortions, but just behind closed doors. Reproductive rights should not be debated upon by the government; it isn’t a political official’s job to tell me what I can and can not do with my body. Restrictions are needless.
Feature image: Courtesy of Unsplash.