The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects, including that it may have set the stage for liberalizing the use of at-home abortions without medical supervision.
In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mifepristone, or RU-486, the first-stage pill for inducing an abortion, but required providers to dispense the abortifacient at a medical facility. Mifepristone cannot be dispensed at pharmacies.
The FDA under the Trump administration set a rule requiring doctors writing prescriptions for abortion pills to see their abortion-seeking patients in person. Nineteen states ban the use of telemedicine for abortion, with South Dakota becoming the twentieth state on September 7.
Due to a lawsuit spearheaded by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the FDA temporarily authorized the practice of mailing mifepristone to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.
The Supreme Court overturned that order, but the FDA under the Biden administration reinstated the policy, temporarily allowing telemedicine appointments and mailing of abortion drugs again.
Telemedicine appointments and doses received in the mail mean women do not consult with a physician or other health care worker in person and do not receive ultrasounds, which provide crucial information on the development of the pregnancy.
Out of the approximately 900,000 abortions that take place each year in the United States, 40 percent are medication abortions, meaning they are carried out using pills. In August, a group of Democrats on the House Oversight Committee passed a resolution asking the FDA to permanently lift the in-person dispensing rules for medication abortions.
Abortion and Telemedicine Don’t Mix
The issue of prescribing abortifacients virtually is not just one of convenience, according to Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“The downside is comparable to allowing home birth by telemedicine,” Orient said. “The patient could bleed to death. There are other complications that might require surgical intervention. Plus, there is a frightened, vulnerable patient who might decompensate when she sees her tiny baby in the toilet.”
Orient cautions against telemedicine replacing the doctor-patient in-person relationship and said the issue of telemedicine is being used as a backdoor to expanding abortion.
“Pro-abortion groups apparently have only one objective: more abortions, with the denial of the humanity of the unborn and callous disregard for expecting mothers,” Orient said.