Telehealth Is a Safe Option for Obtaining Abortion Pills, Finds Large Study


A recent national study has shown that telehealth services, including video visits, secure text messaging, and mailing abortion pills, are effective and safe. This research comes at a critical time, as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could significantly limit access to abortion-inducing medication.

The study conducted by researchers at UC San Francisco analyzed data from over 6,000 patients who obtained abortion pills from virtual clinics in 20 states and Washington D.C. between April 2021 and January 2022. The study’s findings revealed that serious adverse events occurred only 0.2% of the time, highlighting the safety of telemedicine abortion. Additionally, it was found that follow-up care was not necessary in 98% of cases. These results are consistent with the safety and efficacy observed in patients receiving medication abortions at physical clinics or doctor’s offices.

Medication abortion, which now accounts for over half of all abortions, involves taking two pills: mifepristone followed by misoprostol. Extensive research has consistently demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of this method. Increased demand for these pills has been observed due to the bans and restrictions on abortion implemented by over two dozen states following the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected the constitutional right to abortion.

On March 26, the Supreme Court is scheduled to review arguments regarding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations on medication abortion. The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000, and in recent years, the agency has relaxed requirements, allowing healthcare providers to prescribe abortion pills via telehealth consultations and have them delivered through the mail. Telehealth abortion currently accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. abortions.

The study’s findings support the FDA’s decision to expand access to medication abortion through telehealth and mail delivery. The lead author of the study, Ushma Upadhyay, emphasized that the research clearly demonstrates that the case currently before the Supreme Court aims to restrict access to abortion care, even in states where it remains legal. Upadhyay is a public health scientist with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at UCSF.

The researchers also compared the safety and effectiveness of video visits and secure text messaging. Both methods were found to be equally safe and effective in delivering abortion care. The study concluded that telehealth services protect patient privacy while increasing access to abortion. This is particularly significant as abortion clinics have closed in states where abortion has been restricted, resulting in longer wait times for patients.

Telemedicine has become increasingly critical in healthcare since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the provision of medication abortion. Upadhyay, who is also a professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at UCSF, emphasized that a ruling against telehealth services and the FDA’s rigorous scientific review process would have significant negative implications for the American public, making it even more challenging to access this essential healthcare service.

The study’s findings have been referenced in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court, supported by over 300 leading researchers in reproductive health. This highlights the significance of the research in informing the ongoing legal debate on access to abortion care.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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