The pandemic has made nearly every aspect of our lives more difficult, so it’s cool to hear about any and every silver lining that’s come out of this so far. It appears that in some places — such as the U.K., where there was a policy change because of lockdown mandates — the pandemic actually made abortions more accessible for everyone. And if we can get our shit together here in the States, we might just be able to replicate their success (hopefully without the pandemic part).
Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin examined how, during lockdown in early 2020, doctors in the U.K. were allowed to prescribe two abortion pills via telemedicine appointments and send them straight to patients’ homes, the New York Times reported. Those pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, are generally taken up to 48 hours apart and work to terminate a pregnancy safely by blocking the body’s natural production of progesterone as well as causing cramping and bleeding, according to Planned Parenthood. They can be taken at home and are widely considered to be one of the safest ways to have an abortion.
The study also found that prescribing the pills virtually and sending them directly to people’s homes sped up the referral process by an average of 4.2 days and increased the number of abortions that doctors were able to administer safely before the 6-week gestation period. In other words, sending pills by mail even when there is a pandemic could make abortions more efficient and therefore safer than they were when in-person appointments were required. While this finding isn’t so much about discouraging in-person doctors’ visits — those are important in several ways, including the patient’s emotional wellbeing (well, if it’s a good doctor) — but more so about being able to terminate unintended pregnancies without prolonging the process.
To understand why this is so groundbreaking, it’s important to remember the absolute hellscape that some people with uteruses still have to go through in America to get an abortion. In a state like Mississippi, where there is just one abortion clinic, getting an appointment is already difficult enough. If you do get one, you are required to get an ultrasound and then come back for a second appointment the next day. On top of that, if you’re a minor, the state requires you to get signed consent from a parent. There is no doubt that such procedures can be deeply demoralizing, humiliating and actually make abortions more dangerous.
It can be challenging for people to skip work (and lose income, in some cases) or go through the anxiety of seeing a doctor in person — all factors that could delay the process of actually getting it done. Studies like this further assert that it may not be necessary to physically go and see a doctor to get the pills prescribed.
Although many states are moving to make abortion less accessible and our majority-conservative Supreme Court will probably do what they can to restrict mail access to abortion pills, we now know that making those pills easier to get is safer for the person involved. The U.K. appeares to employ a system that made something stressful easier for everyone — so we should all be paying attention.