Restricting access to medication abortions undermines women’s health care

Restricting access to medication abortions undermines women’s health care
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Arkansas became the first state to ban medication abortion, with the Supreme Court rejecting a challenge to a state law restricting the procedure.

By allowing the law to stand, people seeking abortion in Arkansas will be denied access to health care. This law, like the numerous other medically unnecessary regulations on abortion in the state, are simply political ploys to cut off access to care and are not rooted in medicine or science.

The Arkansas law requires abortion providers to have an agreement with a backup provider that has admitting privileges at a local hospital to administer medication abortion. Ultimately, the Arkansas law could force two of the three clinics providing abortion care in the state to close, leading people to have no other option but to cross state lines to access medication abortion or forgo care all together.


This law doesn’t improve health and safety for patients, as evidenced by a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM).

The nonpartisan, highly credible research, which was developed by a panel of 13 highly-respected members of the medical community, makes it perfectly clear just how safe and effective medication abortion is.

The report explains that complications occur in less than a fraction of one percent of cases of medication abortion, which accounts for 45 percent of abortions before 9 weeks gestation.

Moreover, the report directly addresses the admitting privileges requirement in the Arkansas law, explaining, “the committee found no evidence indicating that clinicians that perform abortions require hospital privileges to ensure a safe outcome for patients.”

 Furthermore, the report makes clear that there is no evidence that administering medication for an abortion requires specific types of facilities or equipment. This is because after beginning the regimen most patients will return home to take the second pill. In fact, medication abortion can be safely administered via telemedicine.

The Arkansas law is part of a very concerning national effort to restrict access to medication abortion in states across the country — despite the fact that it is proven to be safe.

Numerous states have enacted wide-ranging regulations on medication abortions including:

  1. Requirements that only a licensed physician prescribe the medication (as opposed to the many other trained clinicians)
  2. A physician is physically present during the procedure
  3. The abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital

The Supreme Court previously ruled that states cannot create an unnecessary burden to abortion care in the 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. This decision was the basis for the lawsuit against the Arkansas law and another legal fight against a similar law in Missouri. Unfortunately, the preservation of the Arkansas law may have implications for efforts to overturn the Missouri law limiting access to medication abortion.

The science is clear — medication abortion is safe and effective —  rarely resulting in complications or long-term health effects. There is no valid reason to deny a woman an FDA-approved method to end her pregnancy.

These politically-motivated regulations are not backed by science. Instead of imposing medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care, government officials should work to ensure that once a woman has made the decision to have an abortion, she has access to the care options that work for her — whether it’s medication abortion or another form of abortion care.

Mary Fjerstad, RN, NP, MHS, is a women’s health care nurse practitioner and serves on the Board of Directors of the Society of Family Planning and the SFP Research Fund.