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People using telemedicine providers to obtain abortion care can now receive their medications at home instead of picking them up at a hospital or clinic. Maskot/Getty Images
  • The FDA announced a rule change that will allow people using telemedicine to order abortion pills by mail instead of being required to visit a doctor’s office or clinic.
  • The policy change will be in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Many U.S. states, however, have strict rules prohibiting the use of telemedicine appointments for abortion in any form. Those laws will remain in effect.
  • Many health experts hope the rule change will become permanent and expand access to abortion care.
  • Medication abortion was first approved by the FDA in 2000 and is considered to be as safe and effective as surgical options.

People seeking abortion care can order abortion pills by mail for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials announced April 13.

Previously, people were required to pick up abortion medication in person at a doctor’s office, health clinic, or hospital, which, for some, meant traveling long distances.

The policy change was revealed in a letter sent to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

The decision counters a Supreme Court decision made earlier this year that required people to pick up the pills in person and sign a form that included information about the risks associated with medication abortion.

Research shows that medication abortions are safe, and there are no greater safety concerns for those who have accessed the pills through telehealth as opposed to an in-person medical visit.

The new policy will allow people seeking abortion care to safely and effectively end their pregnancies at home without potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus at a clinic or doctor’s office.

Though the decision is temporary, abortion care providers hope the move will help permanently improve how people access and afford abortion care.

Abortion medication previously needed to be prescribed and distributed in person by a certified provider.

Under the new ruling, people can get a prescription for abortion medication through telemedicine and receive the pills by mail.

Many people choose to complete their abortion at home for privacy, affordability, availability, and convenience, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The pill, mifepristone, stops pregnancies 10 weeks along or fewer by blocking progesterone receptors.

Mifepristone is typically taken with a second medication, misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy.

Though the pills can be taken in privacy at home, people who choose to do tele-abortion are not alone during the process, said Jessica Nouhavandi, PharmD, the lead pharmacist and co-founder at the online pharmacy Honeybee Health.

Healthcare professionals are virtually available to ensure patients know what to expect, provide tips for how to manage symptoms, and field any questions or concerns.

Recent data found 39 percent of all clinician-managed abortions in the United States are achieved through medication rather than a surgical procedure.

According to an email sent to reporters from the Guttmacher Institute, the number of medication abortions increased by 73 percent between 2008 and 2017.

Data shows the medications can be safely taken in a person’s home.

“When taken in the right doses with the right information, medical abortion is very safe, and allowing women to have this additional option when faced with an unintended pregnancy can help ensure women have access to abortion earlier (which is safer) and do not resort to unsafe options to end a pregnancy,” said Dr. Kelly Culwell, a board certified OB-GYN.

While abortion is legal in all 50 U.S. states, some states have strict rules about who can receive abortion medication through telemedicine.

Nineteen states prohibit the use of telemedicine for abortion and require the clinician prescribing the medication abortion to be present when the pill is taken.

“The restriction of requiring the first pill of the medical abortion (mifepristone) to be handed to a woman in healthcare provider’s office does nothing to increase the safety of medical abortion,” Culwell said.

Thirty-two states have restrictions about who can prescribe medication abortion and require a licensed physician.

Several states, like Arkansas, Ohio, and South Dakota, have recently introduced legislation to further restrict access to abortion pills, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

People who live in more restrictive states cannot have abortion medication mailed to them.

“You have to follow the rules in your specific state, and of course, find a valid prescriber in the state,” Nouhavandi said.

Some people have traveled to states that allow abortion medication to be ordered through telemedicine.

You can see which states permit at-home abortion by visiting Plan C.

Nouhavandi hopes the temporary policy will permanently help people access the medications and complete abortions in the privacy of their homes.

“This is a momentous achievement for women across the country, particularly for women of color and others who historically faced barriers to reproductive healthcare that are made even worse by COVID-19,” Nouhavandi said.

In an email statement, the Guttmacher Institute said that medication abortion could radically expand access to abortion care.

“We hope the FDA reviews the restrictions separate from COVID-19 and helps permanently usher forth a time of greater accessibility and affordability to those in need,” Nouhavandi said.

People seeking abortion care can order abortion pills by mail for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, FDA officials announced April 13.

Research shows medication abortions are safe when taken at home.

While this is a huge achievement, many U.S. states still prohibit tele-abortion.

Abortion care providers hope the temporary policy will help permanently improve how people access and afford abortion care.