• Brittany Evans

Telehealth Abortions During the Pandemic

Abortions are not an uncommon medical procedure in the United States. In 2018 the CDC reported 619,591 legal induced abortions from 49 reporting areas. Among 48 of the reporting areas in 2018, a total of 614,820 abortions were reported, making the abortion ratio 189 abortions per 1,000 live births. Different states present different challenges when trying to make an appointment for the procedure. COVID-19 added to these challenges nationwide. Since the beginning of the pandemic it has become increasingly difficult for women to gain access to abortions. Self.com recently reported that many people feared catching the coronavirus while receiving medical care during and after abortions.

The pandemic has opened the door for anti-abortion states to attempt to enforce additional restrictions on reproductive rights. Texas, Ohio, Arkansas, and Iowa have either restricted or banned abortions at various points during the pandemic, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Planned Parenthood has flown doctors into their clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for 25 years, but the pandemic has put an end to that, meaning that access to abortions in the state is extremely limited since they do not allow the procedure to be done through telehealth.

Telehealth has become increasingly popular across the United States in recent years. medical abortions, abortions which can be completed with a few pills, are legal in some states via telehealth with several restrictions. According to Guttmacher Institute, many states require that the physician be present at the time of prescribing. The FDA has also restricted a common abortion drug, Mifepristone, to only being dispensed by a certified prescriber and only in a clinic, hospital, or medical office. The FDA's restriction on Mifepristone does not allow pharmacies to carry that drug. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has sued the FDA in an attempt to relax regulations so that women can access medication abortions via telehealth.

Dr. Christina Francis, an OB/GYN, pro-life supporter, and anti-abortion rights supporter, states that she believes women should have to visit a physician or clinic to receive the medication Mifepristone. She feels that it is necessary to verify that the pregnancy has not passed the 10 week gestation period and to ensure that the patient is not having any other issues. A study was done testing the effectiveness of abortions via telehealth vs. in-clinic abortions and the results had similar outcomes, essentially demonstrating that telehealth abortions are just as safe as clinic setting abortions. Regardless of the results of the study, the FDA has not relaxed the method for receiving Mifepristone.

Telehealth abortions can be beneficial to patients and providers in many ways. The use of a telehealth appointment allows the patient to avoid traveling, reducing exposure to viruses such as COVID-19 for both them and their providers. telehealth also allows the patient to remain confidential with their appointment, allowing them more privacy when requesting an abortion. telehealth can be performed from almost anywhere which allows patients to maintain their busy schedule and not interrupt their normal day.

The rise of telehealth has positively impacted other kinds of healthcare. Guttmacher Institute stated that telehealth has long been hailed as a promising way to expand health care, including highly specialized care, to rural and otherwise underserved communities. So far, various metrics confirm that telehealth is transforming the method of receiving health care in the United States. According to the American Hospital Association, more than half of U.S. hospitals use some form of telemedicine, and analyses of private insurance records suggest rapid patient uptake over the past decade. Nonetheless, it is evident that telehealth has not nearly reached its full potential: In 2016, just 15% of physicians worked in practices that used telemedicine for patient interactions and 11% worked in practices that used it for interactions with other health care professionals.

Speaking Plainly:

  • Telehealth abortions are not legal in many states, partially due to the restrictions of Mifepristone by the FDA.

  • Telehealth abortions have been proven safe and effective by completed studies.

  • Telehealth abortions have various benefits for the patient and the provider.

  • Currently, it is required that anyone requesting an abortion is seen by a physician or clinic to receive the medication Mifepristone.

  • Telehealth as a service has not reached its full potential in the US.