January 22, 2023 marks 50 years since the United States Supreme Court issued the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. But in the half a century since the determination, detractors have united to derail the legislative progress it afforded. While the SCOTUS ruling last June did overturn the longstanding Constitutional right to abortion and eliminated federal standards on abortion access, forward movement by pro-choice advocates, the White House, and drug companies, are making it possible to expand options for those with reproductive systems.
Last week the Food and Drug Administration took action that will support broadened access to Mifepristone, an FDA-approved drug that has been used for over two decades in assisting medication abortion for pregnancies through 10 weeks gestation. Medication abortion now accounts for more than half of all U.S. abortions. Following a comprehensive review of the science and evidence, the FDA allowed for it to no longer be a requirement that Mifepristone is dispensed in person.
“As a result of this change, women will be able to continue to use telehealth services and receive the prescribed medical drug by mail, even after the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” says Jen Klein, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Gender Policy Council. “This was the reason the FDA started down this route in getting it approved in the first place.” The approval process to dispense Mifepristone by mail preceded the SCOTUS ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling.
Klein also tells EBONY that by lifting what people refer to as the in-person dispensing requirement, the FDA opened the door for mail order and retail pharmacies to choose to become certified by the FDA to dispense Mifepristone. The FDA is creating new pharmacy certification standards which lay out a set of requirements that pharmacies must meet to become certified to dispense the medication.
“What this means in practice is that for the first time, women will be able to pick up a prescription for Mifepristone at a local pharmacy or they can choose to receive it by mail,” says Klein. “This is an important way to expand access to medication abortion and it’s sort of more meaningful right now in light of attacks on abortion by extremists who are really trying to limit access to evidence-based safe and effective reproductive health care.”
Women in states with abortion bans live in fear of prosecutorial retaliation for making a choice about their bodies, but with expanded access, Klein says the FDA has built in an added layer of confidentiality. The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel wrote an opinion, which they publicly released alongside the Mifepristone announcement, in response to the United States Post Office’s concern about violating the Comstock Act. The opinion stated that to violate the act, there must be unlawful intent.
“This is important because the post office wanted to know if they needed to open people’s packages to see whether or not they are receiving this drug by mail, and the answer from the Office of Legal Counsel is ‘no,’ because, in every state, there is a legal use for Mifepristone.”
From a reproductive rights perspective, the expansion has been a win for pro-choice advocates, who continue to celebrate the announcement. And the significance is far-reaching. While the abortion debate has been percolating since the Roe v. Wade ruling, a shift in the corporate landscape has forced businesses to look at the matter differently. According to an archived collection by the Barnard Center for Research in Women, in 1973, just three percent of people in skilled trades were women, although women made up over forty percent of the workforce. Only one percent of engineers were women, and women were rarely in positions of management.
Fast forward to today, women make up roughly 29 percent of senior management, 37 percent of managers, 42 percent of professional roles, and 47 percent of support staff positions, according to the online recruitment services platform, Zippia. And based on the data collected in the most recent Women CEOs in America Report, forward progress—despite it being slow—is happening in the C-Suite of the country's leading companies.
With women leading professional businesses, and their homes, autonomy to choose what happens to their bodies, has become even more imperative. Studies show there is a direct causal relationship between the right to an abortion and women’s future economic and social participation. And for Black women, who head up the highest share of households — roughly 60 percent, the lack of bodily autonomy not only presents health concerns but also real economic and financial implications that exceed their white counterparts.
It’s part of the reason why Klein says the Administration remains committed to protecting access to medication abortion and will continue to defend women’s reproductive rights. “It's important to have these choices available so that each person can decide what’s right for them.”