About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are now done through medication — rather than surgery — and that option has become all the more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abortion rights advocates say the pandemic has demonstrated the value of medical care provided virtually, including the privacy and convenience of abortions taking place in a woman's home, instead of a clinic. Abortion opponents, worried the method will become increasingly prevalent, are pushing legislation in several Republican-led states to restrict it and in some cases, ban providers from prescribing abortion medication via telemedicine.
Ohio enacted a ban this year, proposing felony charges for doctors who violate it. The law was set to take effect next week, but a judge has temporarily blocked it in response to a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.
In Montana, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is expected to sign a ban on telemedicine abortions. The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Sharon Greef, has called medication abortions “the Wild West of the abortion industry” and says the drugs should be taken under close supervision of medical professionals, “not as part of a do-it-yourself abortion far from a clinic or hospital.”
Opponents of the bans say telemedicine abortions are safe, and outlawing them would have a disproportionate effect on rural residents who face long drives to the nearest abortion clinic.
“When we look at what state legislatures are doing, it becomes clear there’s no medical basis for these restrictions,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy with the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They’re only meant to make it more difficult to access this incredibly safe medication and sow doubt into the relationship between patients and providers.”
Other legislation has sought to outlaw delivery of abortion pills by mail, shorten the 10-week window in which the method is allowed, and require doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that the process can be reversed midway through — a claim that critics say is not backed by science.
It's part of a broader wave of anti-abortion measures numerous states are considering this year, including some that would ban nearly all abortions. The bills' supporters hope the U.S. Supreme Court, now with a 6-3 conservative majority, might be open to overturning or weakening the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the nationwide right to end pregnancies.