California recently became the sixth state to make it legal for health care providers to offer abortion, contraception and “gender-affirming” care to out-of-state patients via telehealth.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of SB 345, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2024, people who live in other states where these services are not legal will be able to get health care and medication from a California doctor via videoconference.
Women can also have medication — including abortion pills — shipped to them from a California pharmacy, according to a press release from the California State Senate.
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The bill also protects California doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers from any criminal or civil actions — and prevents them from losing their license or malpractice insurance, the release stated.
“With SB 345, California doctors, midwives, pharmacists and others can continue to provide the essential reproductive and gender-affirming care their patients need, regardless of where their patient is located, confident that California is protecting our medical professionals from malicious prosecution,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who introduced the bill.
Also last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that abortion pill prescriptions are available by telephone or online in the state.
“A full history and physical exam are necessary to ensure gestational age, pregnancy location and any pertinent medical or surgical history.”
The city has launched telehealth abortion access through Virtual ExpressCare, an online scheduling system that allows patients to speak with a health care provider by video or phone.
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“If clinically appropriate and prescribed, patients will be able to receive a medication abortion kit at their New York City address within a few days,” stated a press release on the official New York City website.
NYC Health + Hospitals will also offer abortion medications via telehealth appointments — although patients must attest to being in New York City when requesting and taking the prescribed drugs.
“Medication abortion prescribed during a telehealth appointment is available to clinically eligible patients who are up to 10 weeks into their pregnancy,” the release stated.
In a statement, Mayor Adams said the following: “Here in New York City, we will not allow the far right to continue its crusade to strip women of their reproductive rights,” in reference to the June 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade.
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Abortion care will now be available “from the comfort of one’s home,” he said, adding that telehealth abortion care is about “protecting the ability for women to control their own bodies, their choices and their freedoms.
This is the most recent of several abortion-protective initiatives Mayor Adams has rolled out, including an online “Abortion Access Hub,” free abortion medications at sexual health clinics and other laws designed to protect abortion rights in the state.
The other four states that allow practitioners to mail abortion pills are the following:
What is abortion medication?
There are two medications that can be used to trigger an abortion: mifepristone and misoprostol, according to the Planned Parenthood website.
The first pill, mifepristone, blocks the production of the hormone progesterone, which keeps the fetus from growing.
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Next, the second medicine, misoprostol, causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus.
Planned Parenthood compares it to a “heavy, crampy period … very similar to an early miscarriage.”
Risks of telehealth abortion
Kecia Gaither, M.D., an OB/GYN and director of maternal–fetal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, said that relying exclusively on a telehealth visit for a pregnancy termination can be “risky for several reasons.”
While these virtual visits may be appealing in terms of cost, quick access to information, flexibility of appointment times, and options for areas where there are restrictions, Gaither said, they also have several key limitations.
“A full history and physical exam are necessary to ensure gestational age, pregnancy location and any pertinent medical or surgical history, which may preclude the type of termination procedures offered,” she said in an interview with Fox News Digital.
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An ultrasound exam ensures that the pregnancy is within the uterine cavity and not outside the uterus, which is classified as an ectopic pregnancy and can be very dangerous, Gaither noted.
There could also be data security or privacy concerns with telehealth abortion services, she said.
“For some individuals, there may also be a lack of access — some households don’t have smartphones or computers, representing a health inequity,” Gaither said.
“Telehealth appointments may also appear to be a convenient way for LGBTQ patients to access care,” she added.
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“But again, pending the medical issue presented, an in-person visit with a health provider may be warranted,” she said.
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