A federal judge agreed Monday to suspend a rule that requires women during the COVID-19 pandemic to visit a hospital, clinic, or medical office to obtain an abortion pill. US District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland concluded that the “in-person requirements” for patients seeking medication abortion care impose a “substantial obstacle” to abortion patients and are likely unconstitutional under the circumstances of the pandemic, the AP reports. "Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm," the judge wrote in his 80-page decision. Chuang's ruling will allow healthcare providers to arrange for mifepristone, which can be used in combination with a second drug, misoprostol, to end an early pregnancy or manage a miscarriage, to be mailed or delivered to patients during the public health emergency declared by the secretary of Health and Human Services.
“By causing certain patients to decide between forgoing or substantially delaying abortion care, or risking exposure to COVID-19 for themselves, their children, and family members, the In-Person Requirements present a serious burden to many abortion patients,” Chuang wrote. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups sued HHS and the FDA in May to challenge the rule, with ACLU lawyers representing them. The lawsuit says the FDA rule has “particularly severe implications for low-income people and people of color, who comprise a disproportionate share of impacted patients and who are already ... dying from COVID-19 at substantially higher rates." The judge said the federal case would not eliminate any state’s ability to continue to regulate abortion medication “above and beyond” the FDA’s requirements. “Nevertheless, this is a tremendous victory for abortion patients and for science and common sense,” said ACLU attorney Julia Kaye. (Read more abortion stories.)