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For Abortion Pills, You Must 'See' Your Doctor

States enact laws banning webcam consultations to end pregnancies
Virtual doctor visits in the U.S. in 2012: 10 million
Virtual doctor visits in the U.S. in 2012: 10 millionPhotograph by Alamy

Five years ago, doctors at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Austin, Tex., began prescribing abortion-inducing drugs to patients in McAllen, a town about 300 miles away on the Mexican border. The women consulted with the clinic’s physicians by telephone and videoconference, eliminating travel time and lowering costs for doctor and patient. Before this service was available, the clinic would pay doctors to drive to the town two to four days a week. Remote visits allowed the clinic to offer abortions six days a week.

That’s no longer possible. In the past two years, 10 states* have effectively outlawed what opponents call webcam abortions. Nine passed legislation requiring doctors who prescribe abortion drugs to be in the same room as patients. Texas says doctors must perform ultrasounds on all women seeking abortions and describe the results in person. Whole Woman’s Health no longer administers abortions from afar in Texas. “We still do it in our Maryland clinic and plan to start it up in our Minnesota clinic, but our five Texas sites are very limited now,” says Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of the for-profit chain of seven clinics.