Survey shows widespread confusion over access to abortion medication
Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. are unsure whether medication abortion is legal where they live, according to a new survey released Wednesday by KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation.
At least four in ten adults — including 41 percent of women of childbearing age — said they are “not sure” whether mifepristone, the medication abortion drug, is legal where they live.
The survey was conducted from January 17-24, more than six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to an abortion.
The findings show the continued widespread confusion over access to medication abortion, the most common way for people to end pregnancies.
Mifepristone, a drug that blocks hormones necessary for pregnancy, was first approved by the FDA in 2000. It has been used by more than 3 million people in the United States since, and accounts for more than half of all abortions in the country.
But many states with strict abortion bans also limit the availability of mifepristone, either through restrictions on who can prescribe and dispense the pill or outright bans.
The Biden administration has taken steps to increase access to the drug, but only in states where it is legal or not otherwise restricted. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month said it will allow U.S. retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills directly to patients with a prescription, and eliminated in-person dispensing requirements.
But the patchwork of state laws is leading to confusion, especially in instances where federal law and state law differ.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group that tracks state restrictions, 18 states require the clinician providing the medication for abortion to be physically present when the medication is administered, essentially prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication for abortion.
The KFF survey of 1,234 people found that in both states with abortion bans and those without, about half of the adults are not sure about the legality of medication abortion.
The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In states where abortion is banned, about 13 percent of adults said they think that medication abortion is legal. And in states where abortion is legal, about 10 percent wrongly said they think it is banned.
The survey also asked about emergency contraceptives, known as “Plan B” or the morning after pill. The survey found 62 percent of people who have heard of it are aware that the pills are not the same as the abortion pill.
But 75 percent still incorrectly think that emergency contraceptive pills can end a pregnancy in its early stages. This includes two-thirds of women of childbearing age (18-49).
Emergency contraceptives like “Plan B” are legal in all 50 states, but a third of adults said that they were not sure if that was the case in their state.
The FDA in December changed its labeling and made clear that Plan B is not an abortion pill. It is an over-the-counter medication used to prevent the chance of pregnancy and does not work if someone is already pregnant.
Still, reproductive rights activists fear that some state legislatures may go after contraceptives, as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his concurring opinion in the decision to end Roe.