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Why You Need to Know About Telemedicine Abortions

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February 10, 2014

Imagine that you are a college student who has just taken their first unexpected positive pregnancy test. You decide that an abortion is your best choice, but the closest clinic is across your state, 3 hours away. You’re practically eating ramen for two out of three meals a day, and the cost of an abortion, plus possible gas money and a night at a hotel, adds up quickly. What do you do?

That’s where a telemedicine abortion would come in.

Telemedicine abortion: Sounds like a thing of the future, right? 

Telemedicine abortions are done through video chat applications, such as Skype. Instead of taking that drive across the state, you would go to your local Planned Parenthood or another health clinic, speak with a technician, and video chat with a doctor. Then the doctor would go over procedures, side effects, etc., as any other doctor’s appointment. I personally know friends who have been to facilities that use telemedicine in California for medical marijuana. It has become more and more common practice in order to create access for all health care.

Telemedicine abortions are a recent development in the reproductive health movement, starting in 2008 in Iowa. And now, the same state where it started is trying to put a ban on telemedicine abortions. While this is a new advancement in the medical field, the loss of access to telemedicine abortions would be a huge loss for a number of communities.

This new and innovative health advancement is extremely important for young people, especially those who live in rural areas. Money for transportation adds up quickly. Telemedicine abortions can be extremely convenient for young people who understand and have access to technology. We live in the age of Skype job interviews and Facetime family reunions. Naturally, the next stop is to consult a doctor via video chat.

In addition, since the abortion care is distributed through a pill, a whole new freedom of choosing when to take the pill exists. Perhaps a student has a big exam early in the morning. Instead of going all the way to a larger metropolitan area, they can pick up the medication at a local pharmacy and then take it after the exam.

It’s also essential to note that this helps bridge the gap for people of color, as they have been polled to be more likely to own a smart phone than white folks. As most smart phones have video chat capabilities, this gives better access to all (while some offices may have a computer set up to speak with the doctor, access to smart phones may continue to be important for follow up medical advice with a doctor).

This issue has not been getting the national attention it deserves. It’s important for reproductive justice activists to keep thinking about innovative ways to create access, from communicating via hotlines to social media campaigns to create conversations around reproductive health. Telemedicine abortion is an essential expansion, and we must fight to keep it around for many years to come.

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