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Medication abortion becoming as common as abortion procedures

Medication abortion is now about as common as abortion procedures, Reuters reports.

Planned Parenthood data released to Reuters show that medication abortion accounted for 43 percent of abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics in 2014, up from 35 percent in 2010.

Despite lingering restrictions, medication abortion access increases

In 2000, when medication abortion was originally made available on the U.S. market, advocates expected that it would overtake abortion procedures, as it had in many European countries. Advocates thought medication abortion would enable women to have abortions in the privacy of their homes, rather than traveling to abortion clinics frequently targeted by abortion-rights opponents.

However, abortion-rights opponents in the United States successfully imposed substantial restrictions on medication abortion access. In addition, many private providers opted against offering medication abortion, fearing antiabortion-rights violence and harassment. As a result, medication abortion is largely still dispensed at abortion clinics.

Despite lingering restrictions and obstacles to access, use of medication abortion has increased recently, in part because of restrictions on abortion procedures, greater awareness of medication abortion and innovative dispensation.

FDA label update boosts access

Moreover, according to Reuters, use of medication abortion is likely higher than the increases reported by Planned Parenthood because the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year updated the label for medication abortion, easing some of the more stringent restrictions on the process (Mincer, Reuters, 10/31).

In March, FDA issued an updated label for Mifeprex, one of the two drugs used in a medication abortion. Prior to the update, many physicians said the original label, based on clinical evidence from the 1990s, was outdated, running counter to accepted medical practice and complicating women's access to abortion care. The updated labeling is now more aligned with scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/21).

Prior to the label change, providers in many states already had been prescribing medication abortion using an evidence-based regimen based on updated research showing the drug was effective at lower doses and for a longer time after conception (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/31). The update eased access to medication abortion in several states that had targeted access to the abortion method via restrictions that required providers to follow the outdated label.

Data that Reuters collected from clinics, Planned Parenthood affiliates and state health departments show that demand for medication abortion in recent months has increased threefold to as much as 30 percent of abortions at some clinics in North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. Those states, Reuters reports, are the "three ... most impacted by the [label] change."

Meanwhile, in states that impose few or no medication abortion restrictions, the process comprises a larger share of abortions, Reuters reports. For example, medication abortion makes up 55 percent of abortions in Michigan and 64 percent in Iowa.

Innovative access

To facilitate access to medication abortion, providers in states with limited overall abortion access have implemented innovative dispensation methods.

For instance, Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa dispense medication abortion via telemedicine. Elsewhere, research institute Gynuity collaborates with clinics to send medication abortion via mail to pre-screened women in Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington. Meanwhile, Carafem has opened clinics in Maryland and Atlanta that provide only medication abortion.

Gloria Totten, president of the Public Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit that advises advocates, said, "Medication abortion is definitely the next frontier" (Reuters, 10/31).