FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — Shortly after the FDA approved the sale of mifepristone – an abortion pill used to terminate a pregnancy up to ten weeks – at pharmacies, large drug retailers like CVS and Walgreens announced they would sell it in their stores. But state officials are warning doctors and healthcare providers to follow Florida’s laws restricting the pills.
Prior to the FDA’s pharmacy approval, the popular pills could only be obtained directly from a physician during a scheduled appointment. The new FDA clearance makes them widely available for pickup at local pharmacies in states that allow it. According to the CDC, mifepristone recently became the most common method of abortion in the United States.
The two-pill treatment induces a chemical abortion through ten weeks of gestation, which differs from Plan B, also known as the “morning after pill.” Plan B is widely available at Florida pharmacies and is considered by some as more of an emergency contraceptive.
A WARNING TO FOLLOW STATE LAW
While other states are making it widely available, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) warns all state healthcare providers administering the pill to patients that they would be required to follow the same regulations as for surgical abortion.
“The Agency issues this alert to remind providers that they must continue to comply with Florida laws that govern the performance of abortions,” AHCA wrote.
Abortion is legal up to 15 weeks in Florida, but state law says that only a physician can perform an abortion and it must be done in person after a 24-hour waiting period.
ACHA’s warning referenced another Florida law stating, “It is unlawful for any person to perform or assist in performing an abortion on a person, except in an emergency care situation, other than in a validly licensed hospital or abortion clinic or in a physician's office.”
Laura Goodhue, Vice President of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said that widespread availability of the pill is a great step forward for millions of people but complained about Florida’s “significant abortion restrictions.”
Under Florida law, it’s not possible for a physician to prescribe the pill for a patient to pick up at a pharmacy or through mail order. Instead, the patient must schedule two appointments with a doctor at a licensed abortion facility. Patients must take the first pill in front of the doctor.
“You couldn't even pick up the prescription,” Goodhue told WUSF. “So, literally, it's a doctor, who is handing over a pill to a patient, and of course that's after the required, mandated-by-the-state, 24-hour waiting period. That's how medication abortion works in Florida.”
At a news conference, Governor Ron DeSantis responded to questions about the pill and said that CVS and Walgreens would not offer mifepristone at Florida pharmacies because the state has specific rules and regulations restricting how abortions can be administered.
AHCA made it clear that any violation of abortion laws would be prosecuted, and the state would refer “any evidence of criminal activity” to local law enforcement.