Georgia may not see expanded access to abortion pills despite FDA rule change

This story was updated at 12:26 p.m.

A United States Food and Drug Administration action this week ending enforcement of a mandate that women pick up medications that induce abortion in person is unlikely to change much for people seeking to end a pregnancy in Georgia, where state abortion restrictions remain in effect under House Bill 481.

In finalizing the Biden administration change that was initially implemented earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA is clearing the way for more pharmacies to eventually dispense the medication, called mifepristone.

This includes local neighborhood pharmacies, retail chains and online mail-order pharmacies. But officials say the pharmacies would first need to become certified and comply with individual state laws.

So, at least for now in Georgia, the abortion medication would continue to be available only up to around six weeks of pregnancy, when cardiac activity can be detected in the womb. Georgia patients would also still be required to undergo an ultrasound exam with a physician before obtaining a prescription for the pills.    

Still, abortion-rights advocates in Georgia support the FDA’s decision on mifepristone. 

“We applaud the FDA’s decision to allow local pharmacies to fulfill prescriptions for mifepristone. Unfortunately due to Georgia’s H.B. 481 abortion ban, people seeking abortion must receive an ultrasound to check for fetal cardiac activity. This means that a trip to a medical office will still be necessary prior to receiving the pills,” said Allison Coffman, Director of the Amplify Georgia Collaborative.

In 2022 during the last legislative session, some state lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the mailing of abortion pills.  

Coffman said she anticipates lawmakers may introduce similar legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session, which gets underway Jan. 9.  

But across the country, the FDA’s rule change means more women in states with fewer abortion restrictions could now access a prescription for abortion pills after a telehealth visit with a provider and then get the medication sent by mail, or pick it up at a nearby pharmacy.

Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist and president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement saying the FDA change to allow more pharmacies to dispense mifepristone will improve access for patients.

“There is no clinical evidence that in-person dispensing improves the safety of this medication or patient outcomes; instead, this requirement unnecessarily restricted patient access to a safe and effective medication. Since 2020, continued usage of mifepristone for abortion care without the in-person dispensing requirement has been shown to be safe and effective,” she said in the statement.

Regulators approved mifepristone’s use more than 20 years ago up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, when used along with another drug called misoprostol, which is generally easier to obtain than mifepristone in the U.S.

Medication abortion now accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute.

After the FDA decision, both Walgreens and CVS announced the retail chains would move to offer abortion medication.  

It’s unclear when these and other pharmacies may begin carrying the drug.

Lucy Haney, a spokesperson for the Georgia Pharmacy Association, said the group is evaluating the FDA’s decision.

“As this ruling only recently came out, the GPhA Board of Directors has not had time to consider an Association position, if any, on this matter,” she said.