In data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of all abortions — and 54 percent of abortions before 10 weeks — occurred with medication in 2019, the most recent year for which C.D.C. data is available. (The report represents most of the country, but does not include data from California, Maryland and New Hampshire.)
The C.D.C. also reported that 79 percent of all abortions occurred before 10 weeks’ gestation, suggesting that there are many more women who might choose abortion pills over an in-clinic procedure if they could.
Medication abortion, a two-drug regimen, was approved in the United States in 2000. The F.D.A. imposed restrictions on the first drug, mifepristone, requiring that it be dispensed in clinics or hospitals by specially certified providers, who must sign a specific agreement and obtain the patient’s signature on a form acknowledging that their provider has informed them about the drug. The rules allowed patients to take mifepristone in their homes or anywhere they chose, making it the only drug that the agency required patients to obtain in person from a medical provider but are not required to take under medical supervision, experts say.
The second drug, misoprostol, which is taken up to 48 hours after the first, has long been obtainable with a regular prescription at a pharmacy.
Mainstream medical organizations and abortion rights groups have long urged the government to ease restrictions on mifepristone, citing data indicating that mifepristone is effective and safe, including when dispensed by mail.
For example, a research program that the F.D.A. allowed to provide telemedicine consultations and send pills by mail reported that 95 percent of the 1,157 abortions that occurred through the program between May 2016 and September 2020 were completed without requiring any follow-up procedure. Patients made 70 visits to emergency rooms or urgent care centers, with 10 instances of serious complications, the study reported.