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  • A new study evaluated the health outcomes of 110 patients who received a medication abortion and found that 95 percent successfully completed their abortion at home.
  • The study reflects real-world data, which consistently suggests that medication abortions can be safely and effectively administered via telehealth.
  • Online medication abortions drastically expand accessibility, especially for people who have to travel long distances for abortion care.

Medication abortions conducted by telehealth are just as safe and effective as when the procedure is completed in-person at a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital, according to new research from the University of California, San Francisco.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open on August 24, evaluated the health outcomes of 110 patients who received a medication abortion. They found that 95 percent successfully completed their abortion at home without needing in-person medical care.

The findings offer some of the first data on the safety and efficacy of telehealth abortions conducted during the pandemic in the United States.

Though small, the study reflects real-world data, which consistently suggests medication abortions can be safely and effectively administered via telehealth services.

“This [study] shows that there is a way for patients to have early and easy access to providers even if an in-person visit is not possible. Patients should have access to abortion early, safely, and affordably,” Dr. Sarah Yamaguchi, a board certified gynecologist at DTLA Gynecology in Los Angeles told Healthline.

In the new study, abortion outcomes were collected for 110 patients. The vast majority — 105 patients — did not require medical intervention.

Five of the patients needed further medical care to complete the abortion, and two had to be treated in an emergency room.

None of the participants experienced a major adverse event, suggesting that medication abortions conducted by telehealth are just as safe and effective as medication abortions conducted in a doctor’s office.

According to Yamaguchi, these findings will hopefully encourage physicians, patients, and legislatures to feel more comfortable allowing telehealth abortions.

“There is a lot of taboo and misconceptions about terminations, and this at least allows access to women who may not be in areas where terminations are available. It also allows them earlier access as they do not have to arrange for travel plans if the nearest in-person provider is far away geographically,” Yamaguchi said.

Medication abortions typically require two medications: mifepristone and misoprostol.

Mifepristone typically does not cause any side effects. The second medication, misoprostol, can cause bleeding and cramping, according to Dr. Kelly Culwell, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist based in San Diego, California.

Pre-pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required the first medication, mifepristone, to be administered in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital.

“Because the medication used for the first part of the medication abortion was limited prior to the pandemic to being provided only in clinics with registered providers of the medication, it created a false perception that this medication is somehow unsafe or risky,” Culwell said.

In July 2020, that requirement was eliminated due to the pandemic, allowing the medication to be mailed to patients throughout the rest of the pandemic.

Following the ruling, several online telemedicine clinics, like Just the Pill, Choix, and Hey Jane, began screening patients and mailing abortion medications to those that were eligible.

This study, which evaluated medication abortions administered by Choix in California, adds to the pre-existing evidence from around the world suggesting that medication abortions administered by telehealth are, overall, just as safe as in-person procedures.

“No procedure is without risk, but it does not seem to be significantly different if you do it in person or via telehealth,” Yamaguchi said.

There are approximately 27 cities in the United States that are ‘abortion deserts,’ or areas where someone has to travel over 100 miles to visit the nearest abortion care provider.

Abortion deserts are in every region of the United States except the Northeast.

Needing to travel long distances for abortion care disproportionately affects low-income women, and causes them to seek treatment further along in their pregnancy.

Permitting women to seek abortion care by telemedicine can significantly expand access to care and encourage women to seek treatment earlier, when abortions are the safest.

“I hope that this study, along with the rest of the evidence, can support the continuation of the pandemic-era regulations which allow medication abortion pills to be provided through telemedicine,” Culwell said.

New research has found that medication abortions conducted by telehealth are just as safe and effective as when the procedure is completed in person at a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital.

The small study adds to the growing amount of international evidence finding high rates of safety and effectiveness for telehealth abortions.

Allowing people to access medication abortions online drastically expands accessibility, especially for those who have to travel long distances for abortion care.