One in Six Abortions Is Done With Pills Prescribed Online, Data Shows

The News

A growing share of abortions is now being administered through telemedicine, with clinicians prescribing mail-order abortion pills after online consultations, according to the first nationwide count of telehealth abortions in the U.S. medical system. At least one in six abortions, around 14,000 a month, was conducted via telehealth from July through September, the most recent months with available data.

How It Works

Pills are prescribed by virtual-only providers and by clinics that also offer in-person services. Patients fill out an online questionnaire or meet with a clinician via video or text chat. This method began nationwide in 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion providers to mail pills without an in-clinic visit during the pandemic.

Some of the prescriptions included in the new count were given to patients in states where abortion is banned, a new development made possible by shield laws. These laws protect clinicians in states where abortion is legal when they prescribe and mail pills to patients in states where it is not. Shield laws were in effect in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington during the period covered by the new data, and California has since passed one.

Why It Matters

The growth of telemedicine abortion has made it easier and often less expensive for women to get abortions, particularly if they live far from an abortion clinic or in one of the roughly one-third of states that have banned or substantially restricted abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022.

Activists, legislators and prosecutors in the states with bans are working to stem the flow of these mail-order pills. But they have so far proven hard to regulate.

The new data, from WeCount, a research group that collects abortion numbers from providers nationwide and supports abortion rights, suggests that the overall number of abortions provided by clinicians in the United States is slightly higher now than it was before the Dobbs decision.

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