Catholic bishops condemn Biden administration’s new policy on abortion pills

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The U.S. Catholic bishops are challenging the Biden administration after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced for the first time that pharmacies can distribute abortion drugs.

“The FDA should protect the life and health of both mothers and children, not loosen safety standards under industry or political pressures,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, the chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said Friday. “We call on the administration to correct its policy priorities and stand with mothers in need.”

Burbidge’s statement was in response to the FDA’s new decision to allow any patient with a prescription to obtain the drug mifepristone from her local retail pharmacy if it is appropriately certified to dispense it.

The FDA first approved mifepristone, which is paired with another drug called misoprostol, for earlier abortions in 2000. Taken by pill, this type of abortion — approved by the FDA for use up to 10 weeks of gestation — is also referred to as abortion pills, chemical abortion, medication abortion, and telemedicine abortion.

It accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization once associated with Planned Parenthood.

In response to the FDA, Burbidge, who became the pro-life chair in November, warned of the dangers to mothers and their unborn children.

“This week’s action by the FDA not only advances the obvious tragedy of taking the lives of the preborn but is also harmful to women in need.”

The bishop cited a fact sheet by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the national pro-life group SBA Pro-Life America, on the risks and complications of abortion by pill.

“The rate of serious complications after chemical abortion is considerably higher than after surgical abortion,” he cautioned. “Overturning the safety protocols around abortion-causing drugs to effectively make them available on demand at pharmacies, requiring no in-person medical supervision, facilitates the isolation of critically vulnerable pregnant women and invites more risk, pain, and trauma. It may also result in new violations of conscience for pharmacy workers who cannot dispense such drugs.”

The FDA’s new decision comes after the agency warned in November about the dangers of health professionals prescribing mifepristone to women before they are pregnant after it had previously loosened restrictions on the drug.

In December 2021, the agency lifted restrictions on mifepristone distribution. The decision authorized doctors to prescribe the drugs online and mail the pills, allowing pregnant women to perform early abortions without leaving their homes. 

As pro-life chair, Burbidge reaffirmed the Church’s position on life.

“The Catholic Church is consistent in its teaching on upholding the dignity of all life, and that must include care for both women and their children,” he said. “We decry the continuing push for the destruction of innocent human lives and the loosening of vital safety standards for vulnerable women.”

The FDA did not provide comment by the time of publication.

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