The American Civil liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit this week that could ultimately allow pharmacies to sell the controversial abortion pill, RU-486, to women at any stage of pregnancy and without medical oversight.
The suit is being brought against the Federal Drug Administration on behalf of Hawaii-based Dr. Graham Chelius, who says he was motivated after his female patients that were seeking abortions had no options.
"There are no abortion providers on our island," Chelius said to NPR, "so if one of my patients wants to end her pregnancy, she has to fly to a different island 150 miles away to get this care."
The Chelius-ACLU lawsuit, which also lists several professional health-care associations as plaintiffs, is challenging a longstanding FDA regulation on RU-486 that prevents it from being distributed anywhere other than a medical facility under the direction of a certified provider. Such a provider must pre-register with the drug’s manufacturer, keep the drug in stock and be capable of providing a surgical abortion if complications surface along with other requirements.
Chelius tells NPR that the rules surrounding RU-486 are inefficient.
"The FDA restrictions create delays that often push medication abortion out of reach of my patients," he said. "And some of my patients are simply unable to make this trip and instead have been forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will."
The ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project agrees and says that the abortion pill is safe and effective and that it should be more accessible.
“Mifeprex is a safe and effective medication that offers a woman the option of undergoing a process identical to an early miscarriage at home,” reads a statement by the Reproductive Freedom Project. “It allows a woman to end a pregnancy on her own terms. Nearly 3 million women in the United States have used the abortion pill to end a pregnancy since the FDA approved it in 2000. But the FDA has prohibited patients from getting this prescription drug in the usual way — with a prescription from a pharmacy.”
Many pro-life groups have been campaigning against it for years, citing ethical issues and safety concerns due to confirmed adverse health effects. Some critics say that close medical supervision is needed when taking the abortion pill.
"Is the pharmacist going to answer her call at 5 in the morning when she's suffering or needs some help,” Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said to NPR.
“The pharmacist is not going to be there."