Use of Abortion Pills Has Risen Significantly Post Roe, Research Shows

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On the eve of oral arguments in a Supreme Court case that could affect future access to abortion pills, new research shows the fast-growing use of medication abortion nationally and the many ways women have obtained access to the method since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022.

A person pours pills out of a bottle into a gloved hand.
Packages of abortion pills being prepared to send to patients.Sophie Park for The New York Times

A study, published on Monday in the medical journal JAMA, found that the number of abortions using pills obtained outside the formal health system soared in the six months after the national right to abortion was overturned. Another report, published last week by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, found that medication abortions now account for nearly two-thirds of all abortions provided by the country’s formal health system, which includes clinics and telemedicine abortion services.

The JAMA study evaluated data from overseas telemedicine organizations, online vendors and networks of community volunteers that generally obtain pills from outside the United States. Before Roe was overturned, these avenues provided abortion pills to about 1,400 women per month, but in the six months afterward, the average jumped to 5,900 per month, the study reported.

Overall, the study found that while abortions in the formal health care system declined by about 32,000 from July through December 2022, much of that decline was offset by about 26,000 medication abortions from pills provided by sources outside the formal health system.

“We see what we see elsewhere in the world in the U.S. — that when anti-abortion laws go into effect, oftentimes outside of the formal health care setting is where people look, and the locus of care gets shifted,” said Dr. Abigail Aiken, who is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the lead author of the JAMA study.

The co-authors were a statistics professor at the university; the founder of Aid Access, a Europe-based organization that helped pioneer telemedicine abortion in the United States; and a leader of Plan C, an organization that provides consumers with information about medication abortion. Before publication, the study went through the rigorous peer review process required by a major medical journal.

The telemedicine organizations in the study evaluated prospective patients using written medical questionnaires, issued prescriptions from doctors who were typically in Europe and had pills shipped from pharmacies in India, generally charging about $100. Community networks typically asked for some information about the pregnancy and either delivered or mailed pills with detailed instructions, often for free.

Online vendors, which supplied a small percentage of the pills in the study and charged between $39 and $470, generally did not ask for women’s medical history and shipped the pills with the least detailed instructions. Vendors in the study were vetted by Plan C and found to be providing genuine abortion pills, Dr. Aiken said.

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