Telemedicine abortion providers see a surge in interest
The number of daily visitors to Aid Access, an Austria-based telemedicine group that provides the drugs from pharmacies in India, rose about 1,300 Monday — the day POLITICO reported the draft opinion — to more than 38,000 Tuesday, according to Christie Pitney, a clinician with Aid Access.
And online abortion clinic Hey Jane reported a 24 to 34 percent increase in the number of people seeking the pills week over week, with overall site traffic quadrupling.
People are increasingly seeking “advance provision” abortion pills — getting them now in case they need them later — because they fear that access could be rolled back if Roe is ultimately overturned.
“Most people are just saying that they are terrified about when the decision becomes finalized. They want to make sure that they have access to the pills at that time,” Pitney said. “There have been people who have IUDs in place or have bilateral tubal ligations who are like, ‘I know that I probably will never need this, but I just want to have it on hand in case.’”
Mothers have also requested the drugs — which have shelf lives of several years — for their daughters in case the pills are needed later, as well as people who have had pregnancy complications and don’t want to repeat them, Pitney said.
If the Supreme Court adopts the draft opinion, experts forecast that people seeking abortions will turn more heavily to telemedicine and abortion pills that can be mailed discreetly to a home. And after the FDA decision in December to lift rules requiring that doctors physically distribute the pills, they said the online surge only underscores telehealth’s potential role in the looming fight over abortion rights.
In 2020, medication abortion was the primary way people had abortions, according to preliminary data from the abortion-rights group the Guttmacher Institute.
People in states that ban abortion potentially could travel across state lines and access virtual care from their vehicles to be prescribed the pills, or turn to groups like Aid Access that deliver to all 50 states. Some companies plan to add service in more states to meet increased demand.
“We see ourselves as uniquely positioned to be able to really support and offload the stress that is going to be put on brick-and-mortar clinics and is already being put on brick-and-mortar clinics,” said Cindy Adam, CEO of Choix, a reproductive health online clinic. “Patients are going to need other options.”
Research has shown that telemedicine medication abortion is of comparable quality to the in-person procedure, and adverse events occur less than 0.2 percent of the time.
Still, online companies said that virtual care has limits.
Even now, 19 states ban telemedicine abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and more could join that list if the draft opinion becomes the court’s ruling. For the relatively small share of people for whom the pills don’t work, they’d have to get an abortion at a facility. Plus, most patients don’t know about the pills or are misinformed about them, according to medical groups, polls and abortion-rights advocates.
Monday’s news has added to the plethora of misinformation.
“The part that surprised me is when I call people for their appointments, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you called,’ expecting it to be illegal, because people are confused about the [draft opinion] leak,” said Julie Amaon, medical director of Just the Pill, which offers telemedicine abortion in Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming.
Leah Coplon, director of clinical operations at Abortion on Demand, which serves more than 20 states, is concerned that a wave of people getting advance provision pills could disrupt the supply chain. She said she understands why people might want to have the pills on hand, though.
Others, however, said they’ve been caught off guard by the interest following the publication of the court’s draft opinion.
“We are not ready for the surge. Nobody is, so that’s the really scary part,” Amaon said. “So we are doing our best to be ready for that surge. But I am concerned no state is ready for what’s about to happen.”
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