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The New Normal: Telemedicine
Ana Brennan, J.D. | 13 August 2020
Over the past five months or so, we have been adjusting to the challenges and changes that COVID-19 has wrought. Health care, specifically, has been significantly impacted. Before COVID-19, telemedicine was the exception and looked upon with suspicion. Now, telemedicine is quite common, if not the norm, and embraced by most. The benefits of telemedicine, such as greater healthcare access, cannot be disputed. Even I have had telemedicine appointments. The question remains: just because some health care can be provided online, should all health care be virtual? It is essential to realize that abortion advocates are trying to lump abortion in with legitimate telemedicine, hoping no one will notice. It is also important to understand why at-home chemical abortions are distinct from other telemedicine services.
In May, Katie Glenn wrote an excellent piece for Sebastian’s Point, discussing the medical and legal ramifications of at-home chemical abortions in the era of COVID-19. The chemical abortion process and associated risks have also been discussed at length. The purpose of this article is to assess the issue now that we are well into this pandemic. For clarification, when we spoke of telemedicine in the context of abortion before COVID-19, we were discussing a situation where a woman would go to the abortion clinic and have the pills given to her via a doctor off-site by remotely opening a drawer containing the pills. But the abortion clinic and the woman still had to follow the other protocols connected to chemical abortion. Now, with COVID-19, like many other medical appointments, the woman does not have to go to the abortion clinic for even a pregnancy test or an ultrasound to date the pregnancy to ensure a chemical abortion would even be appropriate. Everything can be done online, from the initial consultation to sending the script to the pharmacy.
The abortion industry would have us believe chemical abortions are so safe and simple that they are perfect candidates for telemedicine. Unfortunately, the courts have agreed. The COVID-19 emergency is being used to justify side-stepping the safety regulations for chemical abortions, regulations that were put in place for a reason.
Recently, in the UK, a National Health Service (NHS) email was leaked detailing the deadly consequences of at-home chemical abortions since COVID-19. According to the email, and an undercover investigation by Kevin Duffy, former global clinic director for the abortion provider Marie Stopes International, there were thirteen incidents, including two deaths and a murder investigation regarding a baby believed to have been born alive. “The other incidents 'range between women attending ED (emergency room) with significant pain and bleeding related to the process through to ruptured ectopics, major resuscitation for major hemorrhage and the delivery of infants who are up to 30 weeks gestation.'" Duffy stresses:
None of the scenarios revealed in my survey, or the incidents in the NHS email leak, would have happened under the pre-lockdown abortion process. These cases are a direct result of the move to home abortion and particularly the removal of the clinic visit and routine assessments.
It is simply not possible to replace the critical clinic-based consultation with a phone call . . . The telemedicine service leaves pregnant women highly vulnerable and must be withdrawn urgently.”
Note, it is the “at-home” variable that is the direct cause of these complications. At-home abortions are not as safe as advocates would want people to believe. Abortion advocates often liken chemical abortions to having a miscarriage as if this somehow sanitizes abortion. For now, let us accept the comparison. According to Planned Parenthood's own website, “[I]f you think you might be having a miscarriage, see your doctor right away just to be safe.” If a “natural” miscarriage requires seeing a doctor, why shouldn’t a chemically induced one? Even Planned Parenthood recognizes that certain medical situations necessitate a greater level of care.
Even before at-home COVID-19 chemical abortions, chemical abortions carried tremendous risk, again hence the regulations to start with. The arrival of COVID-19 has not done anything to mitigate those risks. Telemedicine chemical abortions merely compound those risks.
Telemedicine is here to stay. It has done a lot of good for many people, but we cannot let the abortion industry use it as cover and jeopardize the lives of women. It is important to distinguish valid telemedicine from telemedicine that endangers lives and to educate others about the difference. We must remain vigilant against the spread of dangerous abortion practices and respond accordingly with the appropriate regulation and legislation.
Ana Brennan, J.D.
Vice-President, Society of St. Sebastian
Senior Editor, Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture Quarterly