Accessing Abortion Care Via Telehealth
Abortion is still legal in some states in the US, but the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned Roe v. Wade and removed the constitutional right to an abortion. Without federal protection for abortion access, states that want to severely limit or ban abortion care can do so. While abortion was not easily accessible for everyone before the Dobbs decision, access to abortion care now varies even more widely across the country depending on where a person lives, their age, and how far along in pregnancy they are.
However, some telehealth companies have taken advantage of the FDA’s 2021 decision allowing medication abortion (via a pill that contains a drug called mifepristone) to be prescribed without an in-person clinic visit and now offer abortion care. Prior to this change nearly all patients had to see a health care provider in person to receive mifepristone. Extensive research has demonstrated that telehealth abortion is safe and effective and since the FDA’s decision, the country has seen a marked increase in medication abortions via telehealth.
How does telehealth abortion work?
There are two types of abortion: the abortion pill (also called medication abortion) and the abortion procedure (also called in-clinic abortion). Because the abortion procedure involves an actual physical procedure that a health care provider performs, the only type of abortion available via telehealth is medication abortion. In general, medication abortion via telehealth is offered up to 10 weeks (about 2 and a half months) and 4 days after the start of a person’s last period.
There are also two types of telehealth abortion providers: those that only work via telehealth and don’t have any in-person services and those that offer both in-person and telehealth options to their patients. Telehealth providers typically offer services only in certain states. Whether a telehealth provider also offers in-person services or not, getting a telehealth abortion involves the four basic steps:
- Eligibility. Each provider has their own rules about who is eligible for a telehealth abortion, which can be found on their website or by calling their office.
- Medical history review. The provider may have a video visit or phone call. During this visit, the provider should give instructions on how and when to take the pills, explain what to expect after they've been taken, what to do if side effects appear, and how to reach out with additional questions.
- Get the pills. There are two ways to get abortion pills once the visit is complete: by mail or by picking them up. Some providers may only offer pills by mail, and some providers may only offer pills by pickup. Some may offer both options. Some providers have multiple pickup locations.
- Take the pills. The provider who prescribed the pills should be available throughout the abortion process in case of questions or concerns.
AbortionFinder, a program of Power to Decide, tracks the availability of abortion on a state-by-state basis and has a detailed guide for all 50 states and DC about what to expect and how to locate abortion support resources and assistance. The AbortionFinder database also has telehealth provider profiles to help people use telehealth to get an abortion. Getting abortion care via telehealth is safe and effective.