Use of chemical abortions is increasing rapidly. So-called ‘medical’ abortions were almost one-third of the total in the US in 2016 – a vast number considering the Food and Drug Administration only approved the use of the ‘abortion pill’ in 2000. In many other countries chemical abortions are over fifty per cent of the total. In Ireland, over 98% of abortions are from pills taken in the first trimester.
Telemedicine abortions are also on the rise – and COVID-19 has only hastened this process. With telemedicine, a woman seeking an abortion never physically meets a doctor for a consultation: it all happens online via video link or otherwise. Earlier in the year Ireland approved telemedicine abortions for the duration of the pandemic, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be completely abandoned after it’s over.
The implications of the increased use of chemical abortion for the abortion debate are both huge and surprisingly under-discussed. Here are four ways that chemical abortions and telemedicine are likely to reshape the abortion debate as we know it.
#1: Abortion will become easier to access, and harder to regulate
It almost goes without saying, but as pill-induced abortions and telemedicine become increasingly the standard way to get an abortion, the barriers to getting an abortion will get lower. If you have to physically attend one or more appointments before getting an abortion, that’s more time to think about the decision.
If getting an abortion no longer involves going to a particular location but just involves issuing a pill via an online consultation, the whole process becomes harder to regulate. What abortion laws do exist will become more difficult to enforce – and as this low-friction form of abortion becomes standard there’ll be more pressure to remove laws like ones requiring waiting times.
#2: It will be even easier for men to force women into abortion
There have already been several reported cases of women being slipped abortion pills without their knowledge or consent: see for example this report in the Washington Post. For each crime like this that’s reported or even prosecuted, it’s probable that others go unnoticed. As chemical abortion and telemedicine become even more common, expect to see more “miscarriages” that are in fact forced abortions by the father.
#3: The marginalisation of the abortion ‘clinic’