Telemedicine is the remote treatment of a patient by a doctor or health specialist. It's used in Third-World countries and in many hospitals in the United States, and has been available since the 1950s, with more than half of all U.S. hospitals offering it today.
Maine, Idaho and Minnesota are currently the only states that allow abortions to be performed without the abortionist having to be physically present.
Abortions are carried out by an abortionist and a patient communicating by webcam. The patient is in a clinic and given the RU-486 abortion pill. After a brief discussion, the abortionist directs the patient to self-administer the pill, and the session ends.
At MFP's facilities, it's available to women who are five to 10 weeks pregnant. There are currently three abortion mills in Maine, but the expansion of telemedicine abortions will increase the number of facilities to more than 16.
Although advocates say medical abortions are completely safe, the FDA has received over 2,200 cases of problems related to the abortion pill in 11 years. Sixteen in every 10,000 abortions result in complications that require physician intervention.
Iowa is the first state to use telemedicine abortions, going back to 2008, but it was banned by the Iowa Board of Medicine in 2013. The board required a physician to be present for any abortion procedure.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a complaint, arguing the board arrived at its decision based on political motives.
The state's highest court struck down the ban on "webcam" abortions in June 2015, calling the ban "unconstitutional." The court ruled that the requirement that a woman see a physician in person for a medical abortion was an "undue burden" on a woman's right to abortion. It reasoned that because there are only three Planned Parenthood facilities in the state, women would have to drive too far to get an abortion. It also said physicians are not required in other medical procedures.