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What might the FDA’s expansion of abortion pill access mean for Hoosiers?

The Food and Drug Administration recently expanded access of abortion pills to more pharmacies, including large chains, mail-order companies and online pharmacies. But how this would affect Indiana’s temporarily halted law is complicated and unclear.

Jennifer Drobac is a law professor at Indiana University. She said the expansion of abortion pills came as an extension of pandemic protocols.

“You can get these pills following an online communication with a certified doctor who can prescribe this medication,” she said. “And then you can order the medication with an electronic prescription from either a brick and mortar place that can then deliver the medication or you could do all this electronically – get sent your prescription electronically, to an online pharmacy and get the pills."

Drobac said this ruling could make it easier for pregnant people to get an abortion – as they would not have to do an in-person visit to get this prescription. However, Indiana’s abortion law – which is temporarily halted – requires abortion patients to be in the presence of a doctor.

She said if Indiana’s abortion law is put back into effect, this FDA ruling could make abortions more accessible for Hoosier women.

“If a woman wants to avoid the law, it's easier for her to do so because she can get an electronic prescription,” Drobac said. “And she can get the medication through the mail. That doesn't make it legal, but it makes it easier.”

Drobac said Indiana’s current abortion law only permits the prosecution of the doctors providing abortions, not for the pregnant people receiving them. She said prescribing this medication through telehealth may complicate this.

“If a doctor prescribes this from a location outside of Indiana, can that doctor be prosecuted in Indiana for breaking the law when that person may not have understood that they were talking to a patient in Indiana, where it was illegal?” Drobac said.

READ MORE: Indiana Supreme Court set to hear arguments in lawsuit challenging near-total abortion ban

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Drobac said, with the pause on Indiana’s near total abortion ban, how exactly the FDA ruling will impact pregnant Hoosiers is still speculation. However, Drobac expressed concerns for potential criminal prosecution for Hoosiers seeking out abortions via telemedicine, particularly young girls.

“What about teenagers and girls like that 10-year-old Ohio girl who can't drive a car and can't drive across state borders, but they can surf the internet?” Drobac said. “The FDA has made it possible for these young women and girls to get needed medical care, and so the question is, do we want to risk our young girls for criminal or other prosecutions, because they've taken the initiative to take care of themselves?”

Arguments in a lawsuit challenging Indiana’s near-total abortion ban will be heard this week.

Contact reporter Violet at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

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Violet Comber-Wilen