Providing women in rural areas with access to abortion services through new technology — such as video conferences with doctors who can prescribe abortion pills, and then distribute them using a remote control — can help give those women the medical services they need without actually increasing abortion rates, a new study finds. Researchers examined a “telemedicine” system implemented in an Iowa-area Planned Parenthood four years ago and concluded that remotely administered abortions can have positive effects.
The Planned Parenthood in Iowa was the first clinic in the nation to implement a telemedicine system for the women who lack access to nearby abortion doctors. When the program first went into effect in 2008, critics claimed that it wasn’t safe to allow women to take an abortion pill without a doctor physically present in the room. But proponents of telemedical abortions explain that they are simply in step with a larger trend toward remote treatments, which are increasing across all medical fields, as well as a critical program for the women who live in rural areas where no other doctors offer abortions. And David Grossman, a co-author of the study, explained that his results the confirm that telemedicine is an important step forward for those women:
“I think the most important thing is that it showed how access was improved after telemedicine was introduced,” said Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health in Massachusetts. The organization works to improve access and choice for women’s reproductive health services.
The study also found a slight decrease in the number of abortions performed during the second trimester of pregnancy, when risks of complication are higher, said Grossman, also a clinical professor in the obstetrics department at the University of California in San Francisco. He noted the decrease was small enough to require further study.
“In the reduction of second trimester abortions, it will be important to see how that continues to play out,” he said. “We know that earlier abortions are safer than later abortions.”
Planned Parenthood officials in Iowa told USA Today that the results from this study underlines the fact that telemedicine allows women to make the medical decisions that are best for them, including about where and when they want to end a pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, there were 1,021 abortions performed through telemedicine during their last fiscal year, and surveys of the women who have used the procedure show high rates of satisfaction and low rates of complications.
Despite the positive effects that telemedicine can have on expanding access to women’s health services, House Republicans introduced a bill over the summer — spearheaded by Iowa’s own Rep. Steve King (R) — to end funding to women’s health clinics that allow doctors to prescribe contraceptive services, like the morning after pill, through a video conference.