March 3, 2024

If access to medication abortion is suspended, telehealth access will be at risk

Telehealth has changed the way healthcare services are delivered, becoming increasingly popular to provide remote medical care to patients. This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic when telehealth was a critical part of the fight against the public health crisis.

We now face another public health crisis: the continued erosion of access to abortion in a post-Roe world and the resulting impact on our health systems. Although many people don’t know it, telehealth can once again be part of the solution.

However, frivolous lawsuits led by extremists, including the recent federal court decision from Texas that ordered the national ban on mifepristone (the first of two medications used in the FDA-approved regimen for medication abortion care), are threatening this very safe and effective abortion method.

After the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, expanding telehealth access to abortion is critical to helping people get the care they need. As someone who has worked extensively on solutions to expand reproductive health access, I know that telehealth is a perfect fit for abortion care.

As someone who has worked extensively on solutions to expand reproductive health access, I know that telehealth is a perfect fit for abortion care.

Not only has it been shown to be as safe and effective as in-person care, it also reduces wait times, increases privacy, and can reach patients in remote and rural areas — things that have always been needed in abortion provision and are even more important today.

Recent data from #We’re Counting show that telehealth has played a more important role in meeting the needs of those seeking abortions since Roe was overturned. Telehealth abortions provided by virtual clinics alone increased by 137% in the six months following the Dobbs decision.

If you consider the providers who work in brick and mortar clinics who also offer telehealth services, the numbers are even more impressive. It is important to note that while telehealth is greatly improving the ability to access abortion, it is still denying thousands of people abortion care.

Currently, abortion is banned or severely restricted in nearly half of the states, leaving large parts of the country without an abortion provider who can even provide an in-person consultation.

Abortion is a time-sensitive procedure. This is especially true for medication abortion care, which is safe and effective for terminating pregnancies up to the first 10 to 12 weeks. Finding means of travel across the state, not to mention state lines, can cause delays and push this care out of reach, especially for BIPOC populations or those struggling to make ends meet.

As with other healthcare, video conferencing or telephone consultations could break down those barriers, enabling providers to screen and counsel patients, order medication remotely, and have it delivered to the patient’s home.

Telehealth has increased the capacity of healthcare to reach more and more people. The privacy it gives patients can reduce the stigma and shame people feel when accessing healthcare.

While this is especially important for those who live in areas where they may worry about facing judgment, everyone can benefit from receiving confidential medical attention in a private space of our choosing.

But when we say “everyone,” we really mean everyone. Those who have been and will continue to be most affected by restrictions on abortion care are those who encounter racism, poverty, and the many social determinants of health that negatively impact the lives of people of color and those struggling to make ends meet.

We have an opportunity to centralize equity in healthcare solutions. Bans on medications such as mifepristone will increase imbalances. When we talk about telehealth care delivery, we need to ensure that it reaches communities without access to broadband and smartphones and that it provides resources that address language needs and different levels of health literacy. We must center racial justice and provide culturally competent care.

Now is the time to continue the expansion and availability of telehealth, including abortion care, without going backwards. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a crisis, but there is also no doubt that we can tackle that crisis with innovative solutions.

By bringing together advocates, providers, businesses and innovators, we can create partnerships to expand health care, including the abortion care ecosystem.

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