One in six abortions carried out with pills prescribed online, data shows

One in six abortions carried out with pills prescribed online, data shows

A growing share of abortions are now performed via telemedicine, with clinicians prescribing abortion pills by mail after online consultations, according to the first national count telehealth abortions in the American medical system. At least one in six abortions, or about 14,000 per month, were performed via telehealth from July to September, the most recent months for which data is available.

Pills are prescribed by virtual providers only and by clinics that also offer in-person services. Patients complete an online questionnaire or meet with a clinician via video or text chat. This method began nationally in 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion providers to mail pills without a clinic visit during the pandemic.

Some of the prescriptions included in the new tally were dispensed to patients in states where abortion is banned, a new development made possible by protective laws. These laws protect clinicians in states where abortion is legal when they prescribe and send pills to patients in states where it is not. Safeguard laws were in effect in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington during the period covered by the new data, and California has since passed one.

The growth of telemedicine abortion has made abortion easier and often less expensive for women, particularly if they live far from an abortion clinic or in one of the roughly one-third of states that have banned or significantly restricted abortions since the Supreme Court ruling. Dobbs decision in 2022.

Activists, lawmakers and prosecutors in banned states are working to stem the flow of these mail-order pills. But so far they have proven difficult to regulate.

New data from WeCount, a research group that collects abortion figures from providers across the country and supports abortion rights, suggests that the total number of abortions performed by clinicians in the United States is slightly higher today than it was before the Dobbs decision.

Part of the reason the total number of abortions has not decreased is that some women who live in states where abortion is banned go to clinics in other states or order pills from outside providers in the state. Research also suggests that more women are having abortions in states where it has always been legal, due to increased financial and logistical assistance, a wave of advertising about ways to have an abortion, and the expansion of telehealth.

An Upshot analysis of WeCount data suggests that there were, on average, about 3.5 percent more abortions per month in the United States from July to September than in the two months before the Dobbs decision.

“The attention that everyone has paid to abortion since June 2022 has really made the public aware of all the issues related to abortion, especially abortion pills” said David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University. “A lot of people get abortions who might not have had them otherwise.”

WeCount did not report the number of telehealth abortions performed under the protection laws, due to agreements with some of the providers who provided them with data. But the largest provider, Aid Access, shipped about 5,000 prescriptions per month from July to September, said Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the effects of health restrictions. ‘abortion.

There are several other smaller providers that operate this way, so the total number of abortions under the protection laws was somewhat higher.

It’s also unclear how many abortions occur with pills purchased outside the U.S. medical system, including from foreign suppliers. Although demand for this service has likely declined since the shield laws were passed, some people still order pills this way, Professor Aiken said.

Finally, researchers do not know how many women living in banned states who wanted an abortion but did not have access to it carried their pregnancies to term. But recent research has found an increase in birth rates in states after abortions were banned.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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