Even in Texas, Abortion Rights Got a Big Boost with FDA Ruling on Mifepristone

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to update the recommended dosage for women taking the abortion drug mifepristone may give Texas women easier access to abortions in the state. The FDA changed the label on the drug, bringing it in line with the way doctors in other states have been using the drug in practice.

Previous label instructions from the FDA recommended a greater dose of the drug be administered in a shorter time frame. In states like Texas that required abortion providers to follow the FDA's label instructions, issued in 2000, that meant more trips to the clinic for the few women who were eligible for a drug-induced abortion. Now, the number of office visits required for a medical abortion could drop from as many as four to as few as one.

Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood will now be able to provide the same level of care at facilities in states that, like Texas, have legally limited the way doctors can prescribe mifepristone.

“Since Planned Parenthood’s medical standards are constantly evolving with the latest clinical research findings, we have actually had the protocols approved today in place at Planned Parenthood for some time,” Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a Wednesday statement. “But given the restrictions on medication abortion enacted at the state level in recent years, updating the label to reflect best medical practice represents a significant step forward for science, for women, and for health care providers who want to give our patients the highest quality care.”

Research into the effects of the Texas law that mandated on-label mifepristone use, 2013's House Bill 2, has indicated that medication-based abortions in the state are falling at a much more precipitous rate than the rate of surgical abortion.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, the lead researcher in a study that found a 70 percent drop in medical abortions over a one-year period just before and just after HB 2 became effective, told the Observer in 2014 that Texas' requirement that doctors follow the outdated FDA protocol did nothing to protect women's health, despite the protestations of the bill's backers.

"The restrictions in HB2 force doctors to offer a protocol that was approved by the FDA in 2000," Grossman said. "That's really outdated, there are much easier ways to provide the method. The law made it much more complicated for doctors to provide it and it made it more expensive."

Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said in a statement that the FDA changes do — contrary to what people like Grossman and Dr. Hal Lawrence, the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have said — endanger women's health.

"We regret that the FDA appears to be increasing the risk to the health and safety of women undergoing drug-induced abortions in their attempt to make those abortions cheaper and easier for abortion facilities to provide," he said

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