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Providing Telemedicine abortions just became more complicated for providers

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  • Abbi Aruck 

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, many women have turned to Telemedicine abortions.

Telemedicine call

The use of Telemedicine has rose since many states have now restricted abortion access.

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How do Telemedicine abortions work?

Allison Case is a a family medicine physician in Indiana. She spends most of her time in a hospital where she offers reproductive health care services. Indiana placed a ban on abortions, but Case is also licensed to practice in New Mexico– where the procedure remains legal.

Now that Indiana’s abortion ban is in place, Case would uses her days off to provide reproductive health services. These services include abortion care, via telemedicine through a clinic that serves patients in New Mexico. Many of the patients she would serve had traveled from Texas, where abortion is illegal.

During a telemedicine appointment qualified health professionals review the medical history of the patient and ensure eligibility for a medication abortion. Then, the patient is given information about how the two pills work, how to take them, what to look out for as the body expels the pregnancy. Patients are also given information on when to seek medical attention in the rare instance of complications. The medication is then mailed to the patient, who must provide a mailing address in a state where abortion is legal.

Why are there Telemedicine abortions?

In the US, more than a dozen states have severely restricted access to abortion. Almost just as many states have laws in the works, with the same restrictive goal. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, there are less clinic across the country that will provide care. Many clinics rely on help from physicians out of state, like Case. Having doctors available via Telemedicine helps to alleviate some of the pressure and keep wait times down.

As more states move to restricting abortion, providers are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate the complicated legal landscape.

Medication abortions work for most people who are under 11 weeks pregnant. Research suggests that medication abortion via telemedicine is safe and effective. However, many states have enacted legislation to ban or limit access to telehealth abortions.

These restrictions make in unclear for doctors like Case, who live somewhere where abortions are restricted but have a license that enables them to provide care via telehealth to patients in states where it is legal.

Case has contacted numerous lawyers to try to find answers about the legality of it– but no one can provide a concrete answer.

A law professor and medical ethicist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Katherine Watson, says this is “uncharted territory”.

Weighing the risks

Case works with Whole Woman’s Health. It is a reproductive health clinic that offers telemedicine abortion in five states: Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia and Maryland. In some of these states, there is no physical location. However, the organization works with providers who have medical licenses there to staff virtual appointments.

With Indiana’s abortion ban now on hold, Case says she is looking into continuing to provide telemedicine abortions. However, if the ban takes effect again, she says, she will stop those services because the risk is too high.

Case has said that if the patient volume is high enough, she might consider driving over the state border, to Illinois so she can continue to provide these telemedicine services.

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