Some Republican-controlled state legislatures are attempting to enhance restrictions on the ability for people to obtain abortion pills through the mail.
The move comes after a year of patients choosing to see a doctor from a computer screen in their home rather than going to a physical location. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that telemedicine spiked in the last week of March 2020 compared with the same period of time in 2019, going up by an increase of 154%.
The rates at which people use medications to induce abortion have become prevalent in recent years, with the most recent research from the Guttmacher Institute showing that 39% of all abortions in 2017 were done through the use of medication.
Opponents of the use of telemedicine for abortion pills say that it is unsafe for women to take the drugs without being seen by a doctor, while supporters argue that it is unnecessary for women to have an in-person visit to take the drugs and might put them at personal risk. Supporters also say that limiting the use of abortion by mail would put people who live in rural communities at a disadvantage to receive the procedure, The Associated Press reported.
Montana and Ohio recently saw efforts by the GOP-led legislature to place restrictions on the ability for people to obtain abortion pills through the use of telemedicine.
HB171 is a bill that was recently passed in Montana and is set to be signed by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte. It addresses the issue of chemical abortion and telemedicine. The language of the bill states that its purpose is “ensuring that a medical practitioner examines a woman prior to dispensing an abortion-inducing drug in order to confirm the gestational age of the unborn child, the intrauterine location of the unborn child, and that the unborn child is alive because the routine administration of an abortion-inducing drug following spontaneous miscarriage is unnecessary and exposes the woman to unnecessary risks associated with the abortion-inducing drug.”
Among other requirements, the bill states that a woman who is considering a chemical abortion should get “comprehensive information on abortion-inducing drugs, including the potential to reverse the effects of the drugs if the woman changes the woman’s mind, and that a woman submitting to an abortion does so only after giving voluntary and fully informed consent to the procedure.”
State Rep. Sharon Greef (R) is the sponsor of the Montana bill and has said that medication abortions are “the Wild West of the abortion industry” and that the medication should be done under close watch of medical personnel, “not as part of a do-it-yourself abortion far from a clinic or hospital,” the AP reported.
According to the outlet, Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “When we look at what state legislatures are doing, it becomes clear there’s no medical basis for these restrictions … They’re only meant to make it more difficult to access this incredibly safe medication and sow doubt into the relationship between patients and providers.”
Ohio also sought a ban on the use of telemedicine for chemical abortions. It was scheduled to take effect last week but was halted by a judge who granted a restraining order in a case brought by Planned Parenthood against the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio’s Medical Board and prosecutors from some counties, The Associated Press reported.
Abortion pills were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 with an approved regimen included in 2016.
During the coronavirus pandemic, abortion pills were allowed to be sent through the mail, but the U.S. Supreme Court removed that ability in January. Women who seek to use medication in order to induce an abortion are now required to physically go to a location to receive the drug.