The Rise of Telabortion
With the COVID-19 pandemic has come a sharp increase in at-home medical care, aka telehealth. More and more people are turning to remote alternatives for their medical consultations. In addition to the virtual check-ins and appointments, one other surprising area of telehealth has emerged—telabortion.
Wait, you can get an abortion virtually? Well, sort of. As Undark reported, medical abortion was first introduced in 2000 in the U.S. It usually consists of taking two pills 24 to 48 hours apart. Since then, it has become the most popular form of abortion, accounting for more than a third of early abortions according to the CDC.
While medication-induced abortion has been available for more than two decades, it has never been available for remote use—prior to this year, it was legally required the first pill be taken under supervision at a clinic.
In April 2021, however, the FDA changed its regulations, and announced that abortion medication would be available via mail after a telehealth consultation. Telabortions, as they are commonly known, can now be performed without leaving your home.
'[Eighty-six] percent of counties in the United States are without an abortion provider. Technology can narrow the gap in access for many people who are currently underserved.'
While telabortion hasn't always been widely available, a group of doctors from Gynuity has been testing the service for several years. From 2016 to 2020, the team sent out 1,390 packages to women who wanted remote abortions. Overall, the procedure was shown to be safe and effective. While there were 70 visits to an ER and 10 "serious adverse events," these results are, as Gynuity explained, "comparable to in-clinic care."
This Gynuity study indicated the demand for telabortion doubled during the pandemic—carafem was one of the medication providers that participated in the study.
"We had been providing telehealth abortion care for about a year in Georgia before the pandemic started," said Melissa Grant, COO of carafem. "As soon as the COVID-19 closures began across the country, inquiries increased about 150 percent in a matter of days."
Weeks after the FDA changed its regulations, carafem announced a remote service—the pills are sent directly to your home, while a virtual assistant offers assistance and guidance via text. As Grant explained, "Carafem continues to provide medically supported at-home abortion care with the abortion pill, without the need to enroll in a study, in 10 states and the District of Columbia through our Virtual Visit Center."
Whole Women's Health has also started to offer the service in certain states.
The benefits of telabortion
Telabortion may be a new service, thanks to the pandemic, but safety and social distancing aren't the only reasons women may prefer it.
For one, telabortion makes abortion procedures accessible for a much wider range of people.
"Healthcare can be difficult to access for many people in the U.S., particularly those who are BIPOC, low-income or living in a rural area of the country," Grant said.
Plus, abortions aren't available in many areas of the U.S.
"[Eighty-six] percent of counties in the United States are without an abortion provider," Grant said. "Technology can narrow the gap in access for many people who are currently underserved."
The future of telabortion
Even though the recent FDA rule changes have made telabortion possible in some areas of the U.S., there is still a long way to go before it becomes commonplace.
Providing client-centered and medically supported abortion care at home is responsive to the preferences, values and socioeconomic conditions of clients and their families.
"There are still people in 19 states that won't share in this victory due to state-mandated, in-person dispensing restrictions on abortion care," Grant explained. "While every state provides telehealth for other types of medical care, and 76 percent of hospitals connect to patients with the use of video conferencing, doctors who provide abortion care are still faced with unnecessary and targeted restrictions on abortion in many states."
Based on the positive response from carafem's customers and the other participants in the Gynuity study, it seems that the legalization of telabortion has been hugely important for many women this year.
As Grant put it, "People deserve to be able to choose the type of care that they and their doctor feel best meets their needs."
Abortion is a medical procedure that is currently illegal or restricted in some portions of the United States. For more information about the legality of abortion in your area, please consult a local healthcare provider.