Telemedicine and Abortion: A Natural Friendship?
Telemedicine has been used to improve access to care in many realms of medicine for years, particularly in rural settings. Since early medical abortion is a safe, highly effective, outpatient process that involves only pills, it is ideally suited to telemedicine. However, as telemedicine has expanded generally, legislators have specifically restricted telemedicine abortion care. The most common restrictions require these medications to be administered directly by a physician, or to be provided physically in a clinic (despite there being no evidence to support that this is safer or beneficial).
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has taken on a greater role in our healthcare system. This surge of telemedicine care has provided new potential for telemedicine abortion care, but not without a fight. Read more here:
For the basics of telemedicine and how it can work in abortion care:
Guttmacher | May 16, 2019Guttmacher outlines what telemedicine is, how it can be used to expand access to abortion care, and the current challenges and barriers to implementing telemedicine in abortion care. Of note, this was written before COVID-19, so it does not include information about how telemedicine’s use in abortion care in the past year.
Evidence to support what we know: people appreciate access and options:
Demand for Self-Managed Medication Abortion Through an Online Telemedicine Service in the United States
American Journal of Public Health | Aiken et. al. | December 4, 2019This peer-reviewed paper assesses the demand for telemedicine abortion by looking at requests received by the organization Women on Web (WoW) from 2017-2018. They found that there was prevalent demand for online, self-managed abortion care.
And then COVID-19 hits…
Mother Jones | Becca Andrews | March 18, 2020
NPR | Sarah McCammon | March 8, 2020This NPR articles demonstrates the need for telemedicine in abortion care through the story of a woman in South Dakota who had to travel 3 hours, with her children, to access medical care during a pandemic because telemedicine abortion care was unavailable due to state restrictions.
NY Times | Pam Belluck | April 28, 2020As COVID-19 spread through the US, so did the need for telemedicine abortion care. This NY Times piece showcases the stories of various patients who found telemedicine medication abortion to be their best option. This article focuses on the organization, TelAbortion.
A call from the professional Obstetrics and Gynecology community for telemedicine abortion access:
Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports | Betstadt et. al. | April 6, 2020This review article outlines current restrictions for telemedicine abortion in the US, strategies for incorporating telemedicine abortion into current models of abortion care, and evidence on the safety and efficacy of telemedicine abortion.
For more scholarly articles on telemedicine abortion and COVID-19:
Demand for Self-Managed Online Telemedicine Abortion in the United States During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic
Obstetrics and Gynecology | Aiken et. al. | July 20, 2020
Introduction of telemedicine for medication abortion: Changes in service delivery patterns in two U.S. states
Contraception | Julia Kohn, Hannah Simmons | December 23, 2020
For a list of projects, papers, and policy briefs related to improving telemedicine abortion care:
Ibis Reproductive HealthPut together by Ibis, an organization with the mission of driving, “change through bold, rigorous research and principled partnerships that advance sexual and reproductive autonomy, choices, and health worldwide.”
To learn about some ongoing studies assessing the impact of telemedicine on abortion:
And then a final hit to abortion access under the Trump Administration:
Politico | Alice Miranda Ollstein | January 12, 2021Just before the end of the Trump presidency, the Supreme Court heard its first case on abortion since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court in Fall 2020. The outcome was a blow to telemedicine abortion care. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the court upheld a request by the Trump Administration to reinstate a federal rule that requires patients to pick up their abortion medications in-person from a medical provider. This ruling severely restricted the scope of telemedicine abortion since it does not allow mifepristone and misoprostol to be shipped directly to patients. We hope that in the early days of the Biden presidency, the effect of this decision will be reversed both to improve abortion access and reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure while accessing medical care.
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