The Future of Abortion Access Might Be Snail Mail
For those worried about abortion access during the Trump/Pence era (and beyond), mail-order abortion pills provide a glimmer of hope.
Currently, a small study is taking place in four states—New York, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington—to determine the safety and efficacy of women having medical abortions in the privacy of their own home.
Unlike a surgical abortion, a medical abortion requires only the use of pills to end a pregnancy. In 2000, the FDA approved mifepristone, a pill used for medical abortions which is effective 95 percent of the time. Since then, about 2.5 million women have had a medical abortion.
The study is conducted by Gynuity Health Projects, a nonprofit research group working to increase women’s access to medical abortions. The process allows women to receive the pills by mail and take them at home, without having to go to an abortion provider which may not be easily accessible.
So far, only 12 women have participated in the study. While one woman did not take the pills, the other 11 told researchers they didn’t have any complications. The ten who completed a survey afterward said they’d recommend the service to a friend.
How Does It Work?
For the most part, the process of having a medical abortion through the study is the same as a regular medical abortion. The difference is the level of convenience. While women still have to visit a doctor for certain tests, they do not have to visit an abortion clinic.
First, there’s a video consultation with the study’s abortion provider via the internet. Patients are able to ask any questions they have about the process and get help finding somewhere nearby to have the necessary tests or exams. The provider asks questions about medical history and informs the patients about what to expect and any possible side effects.
Patients need to see a doctor for an ultrasound and blood work. If results show that she’s eligible for the study, she receives the pills and instructions by overnight mail. Women who are not eligible are given more information about other medical care.
The participants receive two pills and must take them according to the instructions. Afterward, they need to have additional medical tests at their doctor’s office to ensure the pills worked and there aren’t any complications. Finally, patients go back to doing whatever they were doing before their unwanted pregnancy.
Are At-Home, Medical Abortions Safe?
Medical abortions are typically very safe, but as with any other medical procedure there are risks. Serious risks are rare but include heavy bleeding and infection which are usually easily treatable with medication.
More common side effects include light bleeding and cramping, nausea, vomiting and fatigue but shouldn’t last more than 24 hours. Women who still feel sick after a day should talk to their doctor.
Because of the pre-abortion consultation and the tests both before and after taking the pills, inducing a medical abortion at home should carry the same risk of side effects as if the patient had gone to an abortion provider.
Abortion Access in the Future
While the FDA has allowed the study, the company which makes the pills doesn’t currently have plans to widen access as they’d need further FDA approval.
Although medical abortions account for 25 percent of all abortions in the United States, according to FDA regulations the pill can only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices and hospitals, not over-the-counter in pharmacies.
“All kinds of dangerous drugs are prescribed and available at pharmacies, including drugs for heart disease and viagra,” Dr. Elizabeth Raymond, Gynuity’s principal investigator, told CNN. “There is no justification for why this safe drug should not be in pharmacies now.”
Supporters of the study hope that this and similar research will prompt a change in regulations and result in easier access to medical abortions in the future. This kind of access couldn’t come at a more critical time, as some states are down to their last abortion clinic.
Of course, if you ask the President-elect, women can always just go to another state.
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