The abortion pill is typically administered by an in-person abortion care doctor, however, telemedicine allows abortion care doctors to video chat with one seeking abortion care. This means abortion care doctors are able to assess patients via video and prescribe them the abortion pill from long distances. 90% of counties in the United States do not have abortion clinics, so this would allow those seeking abortion care a much more simple and fast way to receive the care they are seeking. Telemedicine cuts out the distance barriers for those seeking abortion care, therefore expanding access.
Imagine you are pregnant but don’t want to be. The nearest abortion provider is 300 miles away, and you don’t have enough vacation days or money for an overnight trip. So you drive to your local health clinic and meet with a nurse. He gives you an ultrasound and blood test. Then together, you video-chat a doctor who provides abortions and who could be sitting clear across the state. You talk to the MD for a while. She reviews your medical info and confirms that you’re a good candidate for a -medication abortion, an early-pregnancy -termination via two small pills. She authorizes the nurse to give you the meds. You swallow the first tablet as they watch. Then you go home and, later, take the second pill. After a day or two, you’re no longer pregnant.
This is already playing out in more than 10 U.S. states — and the process, called telemedicine abortion, could soon become a game changer for millions more people. Despite the fact that abortion is legal in all 50 states (thank you, Roe v. Wade), politicians have been chipping away at access for years, imposing harsh regulations (e.g., long waiting periods, insurance coverage limits) on the procedure and who can perform one. Today, some 90 percent of U.S. counties have zero abortion providers.
In 2000, hope arrived in the form of mifepristone, the so-called abortion pill. Taken with a drug called misoprostol, it’s FDA-approved to end pregnancies that are up to 10 weeks along (after that, a surgical procedure is required). The combo works by blocking progesterone, the hormone your body needs to sustain pregnancy, then prompting your uterus to empty. Mifepristone has a stellar safety record — with far lower rates of complications than many common mood drugs and pain relievers — yet you can’t just grab an Rx from your doctor and roll up to a pharmacy to pick it up. The pill must be dispensed at a clinic, hospital, or MD’s office, and to stock it, that facility must be willing to invite potential political protests or violence.
Telemedicine allows a patient to meet with an abortion provider even if she doesn’t live near one. Instead of driving long distances, women can go to a closer clinic or Planned Parenthood and video-chat a live, somewhere-in-state abortion provider who prescribes and (virtually, via on-site clinic staff) hands over the meds. “There is no increased risk of complications with a telemedicine visit,” says Daniel Grossman, MD, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. He led a groundbreaking study published last fall that found telemedicine abortions are just as safe as those in which a woman swallows mifepristone in the same room as a physician.