Technology and the efforts of activists make abortion more accessible

I’m a freelance tech journalist, and sometimes I write articles on topics for which I’m unable to find a home. It’s a bit self indulgent of me, so I thought I’d pop them on Medium for others to enjoy. They’re not always the best edited but are written with genuine interest on a topic.

Technology is making abortions more accessible for women in America. In 2008, a national survey found that 31% of patients in rural areas traveled more than 100 miles for abortion services. Subsequently, states have enacted hundreds of new restrictions on abortion, including limits on the construction of facilities, the qualifications for clinicians, and the procedures that are used for abortion. At present, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, and North Dakota each have only 1 operational outpatient abortion clinic, and Wyoming has none.

One strategy to counteract this is through the use of telemedicine-using webcams and video chats to diagnose and treat patients. Although surgical abortions require clinic visits, roughly one quarter of abortions are done with medication and might be provided with telemedicine — using webcams and video chats to diagnose and treat these patients, Dr. Elizabeth Raymond of Gynuity Health Projects in New York and colleagues argue in JAMA Internal Medicine. This is in line with scientific research by the World Health Organisation has shown that medical abortion (non-surgical) can easily be done by women themselves at home without supervision by health professionals.

Healthcare providers can use telemedicine to interview patients and assess potential safety issues by reviewing lab test results and ultrasounds before prescribing medication. This is in line with services by women’s health professionals in other parts of the that already embrace the technology. In Sydney Australia, for example, The Tabbot Foundation offers a remote termination service. A referral is arranged for an ultrasound and pathology test, then a medical consultation is carried out by phone with their doctor and clinical psychologist. If a medical termination is considered most appropriate, they then supply all medications necessary. They also provide a 24 hour on-call doctor and calls by a nurse to follow up. The cost is $250AUD, significantly cheaper than surgery.

Technological innovations to assist women to access abortions are not new. In June 2015, Women on Waves launched their first deliver of abortion pills from Frankfurt an der Oder in Germany to Słubice in Poland (where abortion has been significantly restricted since 1993) via drone. As the Abortion drone weighs less than 5 kg, is not used for any commercial purposes, stayed within the sight of the person flying it and did not fly in a controlled airspace, no authorization was required under Polish or German law.

Netherlands based NGO Women on Web also has partnered with Women on Waves to provide a website and corresponding app called which enables women to access health information. This includes access to a doctor who can provide assistance via teleconferencing and where appropriate provide abortion pills in countries where country where access to safe abortion is restricted. They’ve recently extended their services to free abortions for women with Zika. The Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes and may cause birth defects in pregnant women is spreading rapidly in South America where abortion is legally restricted.

Technology is at the forefront of medical research and treatment. Teleconferencing is one of the many examples where it will transform the delivery of healthcare as we know it and improve the lives of many.

Tech journo and writer, based in Berlin, Germany.

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