Texas women will be able to obtain medical abortions later into their pregnancies under newly approved changes by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA announced revised rules Wednesday for drug-induced abortions — a method used early in a pregnancy — that will increase the number of days women can take medication to induce abortions from 49 days of gestation to 70 days. Other revisions to the original FDA label for medication that induces abortions include a lower dosage of the drug, known as mifepristone.
First approved in 2000, mifepristone, when taken with another drug called misoprostol, is used to terminate early pregnancies.
Doctors in many states already followed common, evidence-based protocols that strayed from the FDA’s previous label for the drug, but Texas doctors were prohibited from doing so by state law. Among the provisions of the 2013 abortion law known as House Bill 2, Texas doctors were required to follow the FDA’s protocol for drug-induced abortions rather than evidence-based protocols.
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Texas abortion providers unsuccessfully challenged that requirement in court, but a federal appeals court sided with the state and deemed it constitutional.
The rule revisions are a win for abortion-rights advocates, bringing Texas practices in line with dozens of other states.
Abortion providers and representatives of the medical community had long asked for an update to the FDA rules, arguing that the original FDA label for mifepristone was based on outdated evidence from the 1990s.
“Today, science has prevailed where the state Legislature has failed,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the organization’s political arm in the state.
While the medication to end a pregnancy must still be administered in Texas by a physician, the FDA revisions also say the second drug can now be taken “at a location appropriate for the patient.” It’s unclear what that means for Texas women who under state law must take the pill in front of a doctor.
A spokesman for the Texas Medical Board, which regulates physicians, said it was “still in the process of analyzing the FDA’s updated regimen.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing the constitutionality of other provisions in HB2.
State-reported figures show that drug-induced abortions in Texas decreased from 19,081 medical abortions in 2012 to 16,756 in 2013. Data on medical abortions performed in 2014 — the first full year since HB2 took effect — is not yet available. But state officials did note that the overall number of abortions performed in Texas dropped significantly in 2014, with almost 9,000 fewer procedures than the year before.