Sep 1, 2023 - Health

Telehealth abortions are up in Washington state

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

A larger share of abortions in Washington have been delivered by telemedicine since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections last year, recent data shows.

Why it matters: The shift in how abortions are performed in Washington, a state where the procedure remains legal, reflects how local clinics have changed their practices in response to other states criminalizing or restricting it.

Catch up quick: Abortions delivered by telehealth typically involve a doctor prescribing abortion pills, which are effective through roughly 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

By the numbers: In April 2022, two months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, about 8% of abortions in Washington were prescribed through virtual clinics, according to data from the Society of Family Planning.

  • That figure rose to 11.7% in March 2023.

What they're saying: The rise in virtual abortion appointments is likely tied to a rise in out-of-state patients — but not necessarily in the way you might think.

  • Planned Parenthood's clinics in Western Washington have increased their number of available telehealth appointments, but have been marketing those slots largely to in-state patients, said Katie Rodihan, spokesperson for the regional Planned Parenthood affiliate.
  • That's because providers are trying to free up in-clinic appointments for people from out of state, who often encounter more barriers when they seek an abortion and may not come to a provider in Washington until later in pregnancy, she said.
  • The goal is to "have enough in-clinic availability for those later cases," Rodihan told Axios.

The big picture: Nationwide, telehealth abortions also increased, rising from 4.5% of abortions in April 2022 to 7.4% of abortions in March 2023.

Between the lines: There are still fewer abortions happening overall across the United States.

  • While the total number of abortions has increased in states where it is legal, those increases "did not compensate for the reductions seen in states where abortion was banned," the Society of Family Planning writes in its report.
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