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How the Pandemic Changed Abortion Access

The challenges of the pandemic have resulted in new ways of providing care that reach beyond Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. One area of medicine that could see changes is abortion care.

A growing number of people seeking abortions in the U.S. — almost 40 percent in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute — take F.D.A.-approved pills. The regimen includes one drug to stop the pregnancy, and another that causes cramping and bleeding, like a miscarriage. For years, research has shown that this method is safe and more than 95 percent effective.

The increasing use of abortion pills is raising an important question for people in places with a dearth of providers: Do women need to go to a clinic or a doctor to take them, or to get an ultrasound beforehand, as the U.S. has long required? Because of Covid, researchers now have a clearer answer.

study, led by Dr. Abigail Aiken at the University of Texas at Austin, took advantage of a natural pandemic experiment. In spring 2020, Britain began allowing health care providers to administer medication abortions via telemedicine, with pills mailed to the patient’s home. Aiken and her colleagues compared thousands of medication abortions in Britain for two months before and after the new protocol went into effect. The groups had equally high success rates for completing their abortions (above 98 percent) and similarly low rates of significant complications (0.02 percent of the telemedicine-only abortions, and up to 0.04 percent for the ones with in-person visits). Other recent studies in the U.S. found similar results.

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