Research shows that medication abortion accounted for over half of all abortions performed in the United States, which spiked with the increase of telehealth during the pandemic.  

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, medication abortion accounted for 54 percent of all U.S. in 2020. That is a significant jump from the 39 percent in 2017 when Guttmacher last reported data. 

Research is based on preliminary findings from ongoing data collection, and final estimations of the data will be released in late 2022. According to Guttmacher, the proportion for medication abortion use will not fall below 50 percent. 

Medication abortion is approved for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, and it includes mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed for pregnancy to continue, followed up to two days later by misoprostol, which causes cramping that empties the womb. 

Additional research shows provision beyond 10 weeks is safe and effective, and some providers administer medication abortion “off label” after that point in pregnancy.

According to Guttmacher, medication abortion differs from procedural abortion, which is provided in a clinical setting via vacuum aspiration or another method. 

Medication abortion can be completed outside of a medical setting, and the medication can be provided at a clinic or delivered directly to a patient through the mail. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permanently allowed patients to receive the medication via mail last December, expanding access to abortion. 

Under the new rule, patients can get a prescription via telehealth consultation. According to Guttmacher, this can be useful in addressing logistical burdens abortion patients often face when they have to visit a provider to obtain care. 

Research has shown that medication abortion is proven to be overwhelmingly safe and effective in the 20 years it has been used in the United States. 

According to the World Health Organization, about 73 million abortions are performed each year. About 630,000 abortions were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019 although information from some states is missing. 

According to the Guttmacher report, 16 state legislatures have proposed bans or restrictions on medication abortion as of this year, and mailing abortion pills are banned in Arizona, Arkansas, and Texas, the report says. In 32 states, clinicians who administer medication abortion are required to be physicians, even though medical professionals with different titles and specialties are otherwise allowed to prescribe medications, oversee treatments and manage patients’ health.

“Given the reality of the 6-3 anti-abortion majority on the US Supreme Court that is now primed to severely weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade outright, medication abortion is likely to become even more critical in the delivery of care to many people who may be unable to access care in a clinic, as well as the target of additional ideological attacks,” researchers wrote in the report. 

A recent Guttmacher analysis predicts that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, there are 26 states certain or likely to quickly ban abortion to the fullest extent allowed by the Supreme Court. 

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