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Study Finds Telemedicine Abortions Just As Safe As In-Person Abortions

Sarah Boden/IPR File
Planned Parenthood Rosenfield Center Manager Fiona Tubmen-Scovack (left) and Dr. Jill Meadows demonstrate telemed technology.

A study looking at the safety of telemedicine abortions in Iowa finds the complication rate is statistically identical when compared to in-person medication abortions.

Telemed abortions are medical abortions, meaning medication is used to induce miscarriages. Only instead of meeting in-person, a woman obtains that medication during a teleconference with her doctor.

Abortion opponents say the practice is unsafe because a doctor cannot physically examine the patient. But the study, published in the journal of "Obstetrics & Gynecology," finds that's not the case.

"We can definitively say that [a telemed abortion] is very safe and just as safe as having the procedure with an in-person visit with a physician," says lead author Dr. Daniel Grossman, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the University of California San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. Grossman has studied telemed abortions extensively and recently testified at Polk County District Court on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa in a trial challenging newly passed abortion restrictions. 

Grossman reached this conclusion by reviewing data that’s mandatorily reported to the FDA. The information was gathered from nearly 20,000 patients over the course of seven years. He found both telemedicine and in-person medical abortions have adverse event rates of less than a third of one percent.

Iowa is one of only four states where women can obtain an abortion through telemedicine, the other thee being Alaska, Maine and Minnesota. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research and policy organization, telemed abortions are outlawed in 19 states.

"It's really concerning that these laws are just limiting access to care, and there is no safety benefit associated with these bans," Grossman says.

A 2015 Iowa Supreme Court case found a rule by the State Board of Medicine prohibiting telemed abortion was unconstitutional. The high court unanimously ruled the board appeared to hold medical abortion to a different standard compared to other telemedicine procedures.