Abortion restrictions—like so many things in today’s society—are spreading to the digital frontier.
Last month, Missouri became the seventh state this year to ban telemedicine-assisted abortions—a process by which a doctor administers abortion-inducing medicine remotely over video conference.
In the method, which is now prohibited in 11 states, a woman would be examined by a nurse at a clinic, then would enter a video conference session with a doctor elsewhere. After the meeting—assuming the patient and doctor are satisfied and willing to proceed—the doctor would remotely open a drawer in front of the patient and observe her taking the first dose of the abortion drug. The patient would then take the remaining doses at home. A follow-up video conference two weeks later concludes the procedure.
Telemedicine abortion procedures are available to women during the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Proponents of the method argue that telemedicine abortions provide abortion access to women in rural areas. Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, says that telemedicine abortion bans would force women to visit unfamiliar doctors in unfamiliar areas—a tough thing to ask, particularly when dealing with psychologically sensitive procedures like abortions.
“If she is not able to obtain the care she needs in her own community, then she has to leave her community, her support system and her hometown,” said June.
In Iowa, where the telemedicine abortion practice was developed, the Board of Medicine voted in June to ban the procedure. State lawmakers declined to intervene, and a public hearing on the matter is set for August 28. The state’s abortion rate did not increase after telemedicine-assisted abortions were made available.
So far, abortion is the only telemedicine practice to have been banned.
“Telemedicine is spreading across the country in chronic disease and mental health care, but abortion’s the only way we’re seeing it restricted,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “Whenever there’s an advancement in health care, an abortion restriction is never far behind.”