The Supreme Court’s landmark decision on abortion is expected to open a new legal frontier over telemedicine’s role in a fight that is far from settled, and the anticipated demand for abortion pills could also set the stage for new courtroom battles.
While appearing on NewsNation Prime Sunday, healthcare attorney Harry Nelson explained that more than half of all abortions take place in privacy with medication often prescribed virtually. Nelson said in 2021 the FDA waived in-person visits to acquire medication like mifepristone that can end a pregnancy within the first 70 days.
“Since 2021, doctors have been able to have the visit to prescribe the medications virtually across the internet, where people can be on their computer or their smartphone, then medications can be mailed,” Nelson said. “So since the FDA has allowed it, that is the fastest growing and predominant form of abortion occurring in the United States today.”
While Nelson said some Republican-led states like Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have been looking into legislation to stop doctors from prescribing abortion pills through telemedicine, he believes it will be “almost impossible” for states to stop women from accessing abortion pills through telehealth or doctors in other states.
“Traditionally, a doctor is not supposed to prescribe, except for residents of a state in which the doctor is licensed, but the reality we have is that doctors in the permissive states can easily have these visits in private,” Nelson said. “We also have overseas doctors and organizations that are dispensing the medication even without a U.S. physician. So the reality is these hostile states have no way to stop doctors from having these private one-on-one encounters with patients and no way to stop the medication from being mailed in.”
Still, this could put providers at risk of losing their licenses or facing criminal charges depending on the state(s) where they are licensed and their actions. Nelson believes most doctors will keep their heads down, and advocacy organizations will take on most of the work to defend abortion medication.
“It’s quite possible that we’re going to see an elimination of the prescription requirement, and this medication becomes an over-the-counter medication to simply keep doctors out of harm’s way,” Nelson said.
Nelson said it’s highly unlikely the states that ban abortion are going to be able to legally do anything about abortion medication being mailed from overseas or from inside the U.S. from advocacy groups.