Katy Footman, Senior Researcher (Safe Abortion/PAC), comments on the recent New York Times article which shows that more and more women in the United States are accessing safe and effective abortion pills online.
Imagine living hours or even days from the nearest abortion clinic. For many women — in the remote communities where MSI works and even in the United States — distance, long wait times, restrictive laws and stigma put safe abortion out of reach.
In fact, an astonishing 25 million unsafe abortions still take place each year.
Telemedicine, which uses phones or the internet to provide remote health care, has huge potential to expand safe abortion access for women who face geographic, legal or barriers. It allows women to take abortion pills in the comfort and safety of their homes.
The growing online market of abortion pills in the United States is certainly revolutionary, especially in the face of increased restrictions. But this means of accessing abortion care is nothing new for the women MSI works with in the Global South.
In the 1980s, women in Brazil realised that misoprostol, an easily available medication, could be used to safely end a pregnancy. News that the pill was safe spread by word of mouth and women around the world soon found ways to access safe abortion pills from pharmacies and more recently, online.
Fast-forward to 2016 in the United States: Gynuity Health Projects launched a telemedicine project called TelAbortion, which does not require a patient to go to a clinic but rather provides abortion services via telemedicine, sending mifepristone and misoprostol pills through the mail. As of April 2019, the project has served 375 women in Colorado, New Mexico, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington State, Maine and New York.
The process is simple and straight-forward. If you’re interested in getting an abortion, you’ll first have an online consultation with a provider, who will give you information about nearby facilities where you can get screened. If you’re eligible for the abortion service (based on your screening results), the provider will send a package with instructions and the pills. You’ll take the pills and obtain follow-up tests at the nearby facility. And in 7–14 days, you’ll have an online, follow-up consultation with your provider.
A recent review of telemedicine services published in the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that abortion by telemedicine is extremely safe and effective. Very few women experienced complications — and most clients said they’d recommend the service!
The ability to access safe abortion pills remotely is a success worth celebrating. In a world where approximately 47 women get an unsafe abortion every minute, telemedicine is a powerful tool to expand safe abortion access to every woman who wants to control her own body and decide her own future.
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