Women across New Zealand will be able to order an abortion over the phone from as early as next week, as the country becomes one of the few in the world to offer a full national telehealth service for the procedure.
The country is rolling out the final stage of its abortion telemedicine services, with a national hotline that will provide clinical consultations for an early medical abortion, then courier out medications.
The service, available from Tuesday, will enable women to access a medical abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. That procedure involves taking two pills, and can be completed at home. Women who are beyond 10 weeks’ gestation, or who have other medical conditions that mean they may require medical supervision, will be referred to in-person appointments.
Some women have previously been able to access abortion via telehealth through their doctors, but it until now it hasn’t been a nationwide service.
The ministry of health has said expanding abortion telehealth nationally “will help to ensure everyone has access to abortion services if they need it, regardless of where they live”. The hotline will provide 24/7 clinical support, advice and counselling for women undergoing abortions, and offer consults for new patients during work hours.
New Zealand is one of just a handful of countries that offer a full telehealth service for abortion. England, Scotland, Wales, and Colombia all began national abortion telemedicine services during the coronavirus pandemic. In the UK, those three countries voted this year to make the change permanent.
When the scheme was first announced“people will be able to immediately talk to a practitioner willing to provide abortion services, removing a key barrier for some people.”
“Everyone should be able to access abortion information and care when they need it,” she said. “Changes like this continue to build on quality, accessible abortion care.”
Earlier in the year, the government also lifted some funding restrictions on abortion medication, allowing nurses and GPs to prescribe it.
Some opponents have raised concerns that telemedicine is less safe than in-person appointments, but research has not borne that out.
A study of more than 52,000 women accessing abortion services in the UK found telemedicine abortion was as safe as those who had in-person appointments and tests.
Wait times were shorter and abortions were provided earlier: 40% of telemedicine abortions were accessed at less than weeks’ gestation, compared to 25% for in-person.
An Iowa study that compared rates of adverse events in women who accessed medical abortions over the phone as opposed to inperson found that the rates were very slightly lower among those accessing telemedicine. In March,the WHO updated its guidelines to recommend telemedicine for early medical abortions.