Telehealth for the Medical Abortion Process at Home

Telehealth uses video technology to provide healthcare consultations with a provider to patients remotely. This service conveniently offers safe, effective medical attention to patients who need it. Telehealth for medical abortion is available for women who cannot attend clinical appointments in person.

Key takeaways:
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    Using telehealth for medication abortion has made access easier for people who otherwise would not be able to seek treatment when needed.
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    Medication abortions are proven safe, and telehealth allows women to stay in the privacy and comfort of their own homes.
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    This service saw a revolution when the FDA lifted mail-order medication restrictions at the end of 2021. However, that release may have been short-lived for some states as the overturn of Roe v. Wade allowed states to stop women from using telehealth and mail-order services for medication abortions.

Why use telehealth?

Telehealth can provide a great deal of benefits to women who are seeking medication abortions. Women who live in rural or underserved areas now have access to reproductive and abortion care. Without this option, women will delay or miss out on abortion care. A delay in care would mean they will not qualify and cannot have the procedure.

Medication abortions are safe, effective options for terminating an early pregnancy under ten weeks. Telehealth does not create a risk in providing this treatment. This increases access to care, especially at a time when access to abortions is becoming more restricted.

How do telehealth visits work?

Women unable to seek care at a clinic can now access a provider through a video call. These calls begin with information collection to determine how far along the patient is in the pregnancy, what their current health is, and if they have any risk of complications.

The provider may ask if the patient has a positive pregnancy test. However, some provider companies have determined this is no longer necessary. Experts agree that medication abortion is safe, and women do well at recognizing and knowing how far along they are pregnant.

Once verified, the medications are shipped. The patient will receive them in the mail based on how they request them to be shipped and take them as directed. Patients will follow up with the telehealth provider to ensure they have no complications from the medications.

FDA permits the mailing of abortion medication

In December 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted restrictions on mifepristone, one of the medications used for medical abortions permitting healthcare providers to prescribe the drug online and have it mailed to patients. Mifepristone is combined with misoprostol to end pregnancies within the first ten weeks.

Before the change in legislation, patients had to obtain the prescription in person. The COVID pandemic made the process somewhat more accessible, but the FDA has made the change permanent.

How common is it, though?

While it seems that this might not be a prevalent service, telehealth providers are on the rise. Some providers have set out with the goal to serve people through telehealth and mail order medication abortions specifically.

Services like Abortion On Demand, Aid Access, and Hey Jane are just a few resources available in some locations. Other providers offer these services in addition to their medical care, like some family planning services and women’s health practices in locations where the option is not restricted.

Although telehealth visits offer an ideal fix for many women, it does not solve issues for everyone everywhere. Telehealth providers must operate according to state laws and in states where these services are legal. With the overturn of Roe v. Wade and restrictions on abortions left to the state legislatures, US laws will become more complex.

Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee, and several other states have banned telehealth abortion providers. Texas has outlawed the mailing of abortion medications. Other states may soon follow suit. Some telehealth providers cannot mail medicines across state lines due to restrictions created by state laws.

If the states choose to ban mail-order abortion medications and restrict telehealth abortion options, these providers will have to comply. They cannot legally continue to provide services to people in their state or states that do not permit it if restricted.

Anyone involved in gaining access to medication abortion in a state where it is banned may be subject to criminal charges. That puts the providers, patients, and anyone who assists them at risk. It could also delay or possibly prevent treatment for those seeking it.

Drawbacks to telehealth options

One drawback to telehealth is that the women who need it may not have the means to use it. It is likely they may have low income. To conduct a telehealth call, they need the technology, resources, or access to the Internet to do so.

Many women who need this service may find it challenging to access these resources. Another possible drawback is that they may also have unstable housing and difficulty accessing their medication shipment.