How Abortion Opponents Have Forced A Double Standard For Advances In Reproductive Health

Nearly ten percent of the hysterectomies in the U.S. are now performed with robot-assisted technology, according to the results from a new JAMA study. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of women who are opting for the new technology, which can help make the procedure slightly less invasive than a traditional surgery — just about one in 200 hysterectomies were performed with surgical robots in 2007, and that figure jumped to almost one in 10 in 2010. But while medical advances now allow a woman to choose to have a robot remove her uterus, the anti-abortion community has ensured that women can’t take advantage of innovations in technology for every aspect of their reproductive health.

Robot-assisted hysterectomies are just one example of the way that science is evolving to give women more options for their reproductive health care. Although the authors of the study caution that those type of surgeries are more expensive than traditional hysterectomies, and may not be worth the cost, they still confirmed that the technique — which was approved by the FDA in 2005 — is just as safe as having a doctor perform the procedure. And as robot surgery is becoming increasingly common, other advances in reproductive care, like allowing doctors to consult with women remotely to prescribe an abortion pill via video technology, seem tame in comparison. But that doesn’t matter to the abortion opponents who will stop at nothing to restrict women’s reproductive rights.

Abortion consultations via video technology can help expand reproductive access for low-income women in rural areas, who often don’t live near an abortion clinic and can’t afford the transportation to travel to the closest one. But anti-choice activists have launched a campaign to ban the emerging technology, claiming that “webcam abortions” are an unsafe medical practice despite significant evidence to the contrary.

Taking the abortion pill doesn’t require the presence of a medical professional. Even when women make an in-person trip to a doctor’s office to get a prescription for the RU-486 abortion pill, they often return to their own homes to take the pill in privacy. To ensure there are no complications, women schedule follow-up visits with their doctors several days later — and studies have shown there is no difference between the women who visit a clinic for their follow-up and women who simply call their doctor on the phone. The use of video technology to allow doctors to consult with their patients from afar is a standard medical practice, one that the federal government uses to treat chronically ill veterans, and abortion services are the only area of health care where it’s restricted.

Anti-choice lawmakers decry remote abortion consultations as “robo-skype abortions,” a misleading way to describe doctors prescribing pills over a video chat. But there’s no similar outcry about the reproductive health services that are actually performed with robot technology — like robot-assisted hysterectomies, a procedure that conjures up scenes from science fiction movies. The message is clear: despite the fact that abortion is a constitutionally-protected aspect of women’s health care, abortion opponents have been incredibly successful at creating a double standard for abortion services. Advances in other areas of reproductive health are acceptable, but advances in abortion care are shut down before they can even begin to start helping women across the country.