Michelle V. Agins / The New York Times

Attorney General Letitia James is photographed above during her campaign in November 2018.

April 6, 2020

New York Attorney General Calls for Increased Access to Abortion Pill During Pandemic

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As hospitals overflow and their employees become overworked, the capacity of the healthcare system seems to be at its maximum –– there are over 131,000 coronavirus cases in New York State alone. While the world focuses on the pandemic, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is calling for attention to reproductive healthcare.

On March 30, James, along with a coalition of 20 other attorneys general from across the country, called for restrictions on Mifepristone –– a prescription drug used to induce abortions in pregnancies of 70 days or less –– to be lifted. These restrictions include having to pick up the medication in person under the supervision of a professional and signing a patient agreement.

“We’re really happy to see the AG taking proactive action to really push this issue because especially in this time where people have to self isolate, we really need to make sure that everyone still has access to the care they need,” said Robin Chappelle Golston, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts. The organization represents Planned Parenthood in New York.

According to Golston, the restrictions on Mifepristone are “unnecessary hoops” that women must go through in order to receive their medication.

However, pro-life campus organization Cornellians for Life sees the restrictions as necessary.

“One of our biggest concerns would be that if something were to go wrong with taking the RU-486 [Mifepristone] pill is that, because the hospitals are so overloaded right now, that maybe the woman would not be able to get the same level of care that she usually would,” said Anna Henderson ’23, vice president of the group.

The group –– which was founded in October 2019 and currently has about 50 members –– is generally against abortions, according to club president Autumn Cramer ’22, but also believes that due to a  lack of availability of doctors and follow-up care during this time, the drug could pose additional risks.

“There’s the lack of availability of doctors, so it would be harder to get follow-up care,” Cramer said. “It makes it a lot more dangerous to have [the pill] during this time of quarantine.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, around 3.7 million women have used Mifepristone from September 2000 –– when the drug was originally approved –– through December 2018. Out of these cases, 24 have resulted in death.

Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell, a pro-choice student organization on campus, did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Cramer and Henderson spoke of alternative resources that women can seek during this time, such as pregnancy resources centers that continue to offer services online.

Pregnancy resource centers are non-profit organizations, which receive government funding in 29 states, that provide services like free diapers, baby clothes and counseling for pregnancy options, according to a study done by the National Institutes of Health.

Golston also spoke of the steady number of patients Planned Parenthood is seeing as they move to provide more services through telemedicine, which Golston described as providing consultations over the phone with Planned Parenthood’s physicians.

The topics of these consultations can include “birth control, emergency contraception, trans/nonbinary hormone therapy, STI treatment and more,” according to a Planned Parenthood press release.

According to Golston, Planned Parenthood is implementing ways in which patients can pick up medication without human-to-human contact, and is also helping patients through phone calls and its app, PP Direct.

The organization’s press release also discusses their partnership with local hospitals to free up beds for COVID-19 patients.

The PP Direct app, which provides services such as birth control and UTI treatment, saw a 60 percent increase in users during March, according to the press release.

“We’re really trying to address whatever the needs are and really think creatively and out the box, which I know a lot of healthcare providers are doing at this time,” Golston said.