Abortions available by…video?

In the ten years since the FDA approved the abortion pill, a lot has changed. There was a migration from France, where it was first available in 1988, to this country, after 12 years of heated debate.

Then came the name change. Originally dubbed RU-486, the medication is now known as mifepristone (and marketed as Mifeprex) in the United States.

Through it all, controversy has surrounded this pill, from whether or not it is safe and effective to whether or not it should be available at all. The debate surely won’t quiet down in this decade, especially with the newest developments for the abortion pill — availability by video.

While Skyping in a prescription is really just a slick way of saying it, the reality is that clinics in Iowa can now offer mifepristone remotely to patients through video conferencing and auto-release of the actual pills.

Through a new telemedicine program, patients have a video conference consultation with a doctor. The doctor, who has the patient’s medical records on hand, reviews the pregnancy and barring any complications, can unlock a container with the pills for the patient to take home.

Patients can participate in the telemedicine program and the prescription by visiting a clinic where they are examined by a nurse, given an ultrasound, and offered private access to a secure Internet connection. Sixteen of these facilities operated by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland are available to women in Iowa.

Mifepristone (different from Plan B, the emergency contraception that does not cause abortions but rather, acts as a higher-dose birth control pill that prevents pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex) is available in 35 countries worldwide. It is offered in the U.S. as an alternative to surgical abortion with the appeal of privacy for women who would rather take the pills at home rather than have a procedure in a clinic. The popularity of the pill rose significantly from 2001 to 2008 — from 55,000 pills distributed to 184,000 doses distributed, even though the number of abortions did not go up.  Today, the pills is used for approximately 25% of all terminations at nine weeks of pregnancy or sooner, and 15% of all total abortions. To date, about 1,900 women have been provided with the pill through the telemedicine program.