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FDA Permanently Allows Abortion Pills To Be Sent by Mail

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The move allows the pill to be prescribed via telemedicine and reverses previous restrictions that required people seeking medication abortions to pick up the drug in person from a certified provider.


FDA Ruling

The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it is relaxing controversial restrictions on a pill used to terminate early pregnancies, permanently allowing the drugs to be sent to patients in the mail.

The pill, mifepristone, was approved by the FDA in 2000 to be combined with another drug, misoprostol, to end pregnancies up to 10 weeks.

When the FDA approved the drug for so-called medication abortions, it imposed regulations that required patients to pick up mifepristone in person from a certified provider but allowed them to take the pill anywhere, including their homes. 

Experts say these rules made mifepristone the only drug that the FDA mandated be obtained from a medical provider but not taken in the presence of one.

Those restrictions remained in place for two decades, but during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, medical groups successfully sued to block the rule, arguing that it put patients at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

The Trump administration fought the decision, and in January, the Supreme Court reinstated the rule. However, in April, the Biden administration again waived the provider requirement for the duration of the pandemic.

At the time, the FDA said research showed the move did not present “serious safety concerns,” and began a review into whether the regulations for mifepristone should be lifted altogether.

In addition to allowing providers to send the pill by mail, the FDA rule-change will permit patients to be prescribed the drug through telemedicine. It will also let pharmacies dispense mifepristone if they are certified by its manufacturer.

Despite arguments from abortion opponents, numerous studies have repeatedly found that mifepristone — which is used in more than 60 other countries — is safe and effective. 

In fact, a new study from Canada found that after the country made mifepristone available by a doctor’s prescription in 2017, complications did not increase compared to when the drug was more restricted.

Adverse events following the use of the medication are rare, according to the FDA. Data from the agency shows that of the estimated 3.7 million people who took the drug between 2000 and 2018, only 24 deaths occurred. Those deaths, however, cannot be attributed to the drug because other health conditions and concerns were present in the patients.

Increased Access in Some States, More Restrictions in Others

The new decision is expected to drastically expand access to medication abortions, which are already a highly popular means of terminating early pregnancies nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of all abortions and 54% of abortions before 10 weeks were conducted through medication in 2019, the most recent year data is available. Notably, the CDC figures do not include data from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire, indicating that the numbers could be higher.

The agency also reported that 79% of all abortions occurred before 10 weeks, which further suggests more people will choose medication abortions over in-clinic procedures when given the choice.

Still, in anticipation of the FDA’s relaxation of restrictions, several states have moved to limit access to medication abortions.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, just this year alone, seven states have passed laws requiring mifepristone to be obtained in person and from a provider, while four states approved laws that limit medication abortion before 10 weeks.

More states are likely to follow suit. The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group, said in a statement Thursday that at least seven more states will likely enact similar in the next year.

Other states have taken different actions to prevent access to medication abortions. The New York Times reported that 19 states “mostly in the South and the Midwest” have banned telemedicine visits for medication abortion. Conservative leaders in those states are expected to take additional steps to further deter people from obtaining mifepristone.

Notably, people who wish to seek a medication abortion in a state where they are restricted may travel to another state where they are not. Experts anticipate that states like California and New York, which have fought to expand access to medication abortions, will work to further increase availability to those from states where it is limited.

Legal experts also predict that the FDA’s decision will prompt abortion rights groups to take legal action against states that curtail the ability to obtain mifepristone or have passed laws banning telemedicine for abortion.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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