Telemedicine Provides Safe and Effective Abortions to Rural Communities

By Rebecca Jones


A new and extremely controversial abortion method is dividing doctors as well as patients. Telemedicine abortions are growing in popularity is states like Iowa but despite an overwhelmingly high satisfaction rate from women, many are concerned that virtual medicine can’t compete with having a doctor present during a procedure.


How it Works

Traditionally when a woman chooses to have a non-surgical abortion via the pill RU-486 the state requires a physician to counsel the patient and dispense medication in person. There are a few states that also allow nurse practitioners to dispense as well. Now with the virtual consultations a woman can go into a planned parenthood and take a pregnancy test, receive an ultra sound, to determine the gestational age of the fetus, and then can speak with a doctor by means of a private computer network. At this point the doctor can remotely administer the abortion pills.


The Pros

According to the National Abortion Federation 88% of all U.S. counties have no identifiable abortion provider. In rural areas that number rises to 97%. With telemedicine abortion many women are given access to a procedure that they would otherwise have to travel hours away to receive and that’s assuming that they have access to transportation. Beyond the convenience factor the response from women has been very positive. The report published in the recent journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that telemedicine abortions are just as safe and effective as the traditional procedure. A research team followed 578 women from Iowa who used RU-486 at Planned Parenthood clinics to terminate a pregnancy. 223 women used telemedicine consultations while 226 opted for meeting with a doctor in person. In telemedicine patients the medical termination was 99% effective compared to 97% in in-person patients and there was no difference in rate of complications between the two groups. The telemedicine group also had a higher rate of satisfaction with the experience; 94% said they were “very satisfied” with the procedure and 75% said they preferred it to face to face counseling.


The Concerns

Since it’s inception in 2008, telemedicine has faced severe objection for anti-abortion advocates who claim that it makes it too easy for women to have an abortion and could endanger their health. Already 5 states have banned the practice and more are sure to follow suit. Since its approval in 2000, RU-486 has been used by 1.52 million women. The FDA continues to maintain that it is safe and effective with only 2207 complications ever being reported. The FDA has also stated that they are unclear as to whether the pill was actually responsible for these complications. Other practitioners worry that telemedicine cannot provide women with the support necessary for what can be a very emotional procedure. They recommend that instead of telemedicine, the law should allow for lower level health care providers to administer the pill so that women can still meet with a professional face to face.


While its fate remains up in the air supporters of telemedicine abortions feel that this remains an anti-abortion issue. Telemedicine has far greater applications than just abortions; not only can it give women back control over their bodies but it can give thousands of people in rural communities’ access to medical advice via video.


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