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Telehealth and Abortion: Can doctors prescribe abortion pills across state lines?

Posted at 9:31 PM, Jun 24, 2022

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) — As people around the world react to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn Roe vs. Wade, there are growing questions about what telehealth options will exist for women in states that ban abortion.

ABC 10News reporter Madison Weil spoke with a healthcare attorney about the future of abortion pills nationwide.

“The discussion around abortion has changed in terms of technology in terms of medication,” said Harry Nelson, a California-based attorney and partner at Nelson Hardiman.

Nelson specializes in giving legal advice to telehealth providers, many of which provide women’s health services. He says today, more than half of all abortions take place privately at home with pills often prescribed virtually – sometimes even mailed to patients.

“Specifically, mifepristone and misoprostol which are the two medications that are used up to 10 weeks in pregnancy,” he explained.

The question now is will this be an option for women in states where abortion is banned?

“There will become...all of these questions about where people live and who is allowed to treat them,” said Nelson. “The general rule is a patient is supposed to be treated in the state where they live, but we do have a lot of people who move around, who are traveling, who are in school.”

In short, Nelson says there is currently a lot of ambiguity when it comes to telehealth, abortion pill prescriptions and state lines.

While certain providers might not be able to prescribe patients across state lines, he says there will likely be loopholes that will allow anyone seeking a safe, abortion pill to have one mailed to them.

“I think it’s going to be impossible for these hostile states to actually prevent people from prescribing or just mailing the medication in,” he said.

Nelson further explains there are already several advocacy organizations in California, for example, that would receive the pill on a patient’s behalf before discreetly forwarding it to them via mail.

“I think on a practical level the access is going to be there. Whether it fits neatly in the law or not. The real question is how many women are aware of these options?” said Nelson.

The concern, he says, is that many people, particularly those in low-income communities, will not know these options exist and turn to unreliable or unsafe alternatives. He says moving forward, education will be critical so anyone seeking abortion medication can do so safely and from a licensed provider.