Study: Telemedicine abortions have no more adverse effects than in-person equivalent

By Jonah Comstock

A new study reaffirms that medical abortions via telemedicine are no more likely to cause complications than the same procedures conducted in person.

Published last week in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the study looked at real world data from seven years of medical abortions in the state of Iowa, a total of 8,765 telemedicine and 10,405 in-person medical abortions. They looked at adverse event reports from Danco, the distributor of mifepristone, the medication used in medical abortions. As a secondary measure to catch patients who might have had adverse events and not reported them, researchers also sent surveys out to emergency departments in Iowa.

First of all, the study found that adverse events were rare across both groups -- only 49 were reported, and they included no deaths or surgeries. Sixteen of those were in the telemedicine group (0.18 percent of the group), compared to 33 in the in-person group (0.32 percent).

This isn't the first study to produce results like this -- a study published in May in the British Medical Journal found medical abortions by telemedicine to be safe and effective, but the study was based in Ireland, had a much smaller sample size, and didn't compare telemedicine with in-person treatment. 

The results are nationally significant because abortion via telemedicine is banned in 18 states, ostensibly for reasons of safety. But many hold that these laws are unconstitutional and discriminatory/

Some states whose telemedicine policies specifically ban the use of virtual prescribing of abortion-inducing medication have found themselves slapped with lawsuits on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Utah was the latest to put such restrictions on telemedicine, although they later removed the language. The amendment was similar to bills that had recently been struck down in other states. Idaho recently stopped banning the use of telemedicine to provide abortion-inducing medication following the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, and that organization also won a similar lawsuit in Iowa in 2015 when the state Supreme Court ruled a 2013 rule preventing doctors from administering abortion-inducing medication via telehealth was unconstitutional.