Telemedicine abortions up in Washington state

(The Center Square) – Telemedicine seems set to play a crucial role for women seeking abortions, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, sending the controversial practice back…

(The Center Square) – Telemedicine seems set to play a crucial role for women seeking abortions, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, sending the controversial practice back to the states.

That’s the case even in Washington state, where the overturning of Roe has been widely viewed as having little impact.

That’s because abortions are more accessible in Washington, where state law protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy any time before the fetus is considered viable – that is, when it can survive outside of the womb. That’s generally considered to be about 24 weeks.

State law also allows pregnancies to be ended past 24 weeks, if doing so would protect the health or life of the mother.

Some abortion critics of Washington’s health exception say it is so broad as to be practically meaningless in that it includes mental health.

“Even as coverage of the decision recedes from the forefront of the news cycle, we’ve seen an 18% increase in patients and a 107% increase in site visitors this past month (versus the 30-day period before),” Kiki Freedman, CEO of Hey Jane, a virtual clinic founded in 2019 that offers telemedicine abortion care, said a month after the June 24 Supreme Court decision striking down Roe.

She added, “In Washington, net sign-ups are up 21.9% from the previous month.”

While net sign ups at Hey Jane are up in the Evergreen State, Washington is among 18 states where the abortion rate fell in 2020, according to data from the New York-based abortion-rights research organization the Guttmacher Institute.

While there was a slight increase in the number of abortions performed in Washington – from 17,740 in 2017 to 17,980 in 2020 – the population increase of women ages 15-44 over that period translated into the rate of abortions falling from 12.1 to 11.7 per 1,000, or a 3% decline.

The overall abortion rate in the U.S. increased 8% over the same period.

The virtual option when it comes to abortion is not new. Medication abortions – when drugs are used to bring about an abortion – have become increasingly common over the last 20 years. In fact, they made up more than half of abortions in the U.S. in 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe isn’t the only major recent event impacting medication abortions.

Abortion medication had to be picked up in person until 2021 when the Food and Drug Administration suspended enforcement of that requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last December, the FDA permanently lifted its longstanding restrictions on abortion pills, clearing the way for doctors to prescribe the drugs online and have them mailed to patients or sent to local pharmacies.

“It’s been clear for a long time that telemedicine abortion is safe and effective, but now we have this evidence of just how crucial it is in the post-Roe landscape – especially when it comes to absorbing patients from overburdened clinics and offering a fast treatment option for people facing long in-person appointment wait times,” Freedman said.

She continued, “Hey Jane is ready to meet this moment: Given this ongoing increase in patients, we’re expanding our clinical care team to ensure that we’re able to support everyone eligible for care with us.”

In addition to Washington, Hey Jane offers telemedicine abortion care in California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, and New York.

“And we’ve prioritized state expansion, so that we can reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” Freedman said. “We’ve soft-launched in New Jersey, and have more state launches on the horizon.”