Aug 29, 2023 - News

Telemedicine abortions are on the rise in Iowa

Data: Society of Family Planning; Note: Abortion data rounded to nearest ten. Telehealth abortions recorded as occurring in the state where the medications were prescribed; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

The share of abortions using telemedicine in Iowa increased more than 10 percentage points from April 2022 to March 2023, per the Society of Family Planning's (SFP) latest #WeCount report.

Why it matters: A recent federal appeals court ruling limiting access to the abortion pill mifepristone may pave the way for a Supreme Court debate that puts the future of telehealth abortions at risk.

Catch up fast: SFP's national reporting initiative shows shifts in abortion access by state following the U.S Supreme Court's June 2022 ruling overturning many federal protections to abortion and leaving more decisions to states.

By the numbers: SFP estimates there were around 25,600 fewer abortions from July 2022 through March 2023 as compared to what that number would have been before the court ruling.

  • Meanwhile, the number of monthly abortions provided by virtual clinic telehealth providers increased from 5,200 in June 2022 to as high as 8,550 in December.

Zoom in: The overall number of abortions in Iowa has generally been stable or slightly lower since April 2022, according to SFP tracking.

  • But the estimated share of those provided virtually increased just over 5% in April 2022 to 15.4% as of March 2023.

Of note: Due to state law, Iowa abortions via telemedicine involve a patient coming into a health center at least twice for required services or wait times, Sheena Dooley, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood North Central States, tells Axios.

  • Patients generally receive the first pill of the two-dose abortion regimen at the health center and are then sent home with the second.

What they're saying: Iowa's increase in telemedicine abortions is partially due to a lack of doctors.

  • Planned Parenthood — which currently offers the telemedicine service at Iowa City, Ames, Rosenfield and Sioux City — is considering expanding it because of growing needs, Dooley says.

The other side: Members of Iowa Right to Life have for years contended that telemedicine abortions are unsafe and advocated to end them, director Kristi Judkins tells Axios.

  • SFP's report is not surprising and will result in her group working harder to communicate risks associated with their use, Judkins said.
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