Protecting Medication Abortion is Reproductive Justice

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The next attack on abortion rights in the United States threatens far-reaching and drastic consequences on the state of reproductive justice. This attack comes in the form of a national ban on medication abortion, the most used method in the country. 

Medication abortion has become vital to abortion care after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision which reversed Roe v. Wade. This regimen includes two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol.

Over 5 million individuals have used mifepristone since its approval by the FDA in 2000 with countless research solidifying its safety and effectiveness. 

However, this has not stopped the influx of legal cases launched by anti-abortion proponents to end access to medication abortion. 

Two pending cases have been brought forward recently to the Supreme Court by anti-abortion organizations. They argue for mifepristone to be outright banned or severely restricted on the basis that approval of the drug by the FDA more than two decades ago should never have been passed.

These legal cases are not merely about protecting medication abortion; it is also about safeguarding reproductive justice. Reproductive justice refers to the ability of individuals to freely make decisions on their reproductive health, including the right to prevent or end pregnancy.

Importantly, reproductive justice as a framework first arose from the community activism of Black women scholars and activists, reflecting its foundations in health equity, access, and well-being.

Reproductive justice is pertinent to the issue of medication abortion because this method is the most accessible and affordable option, particularly for marginalized communities with the most obstacles to safe abortion care.

Current obstacles to accessing medication abortion consist of individuals being uninformed about what it is, where to access the pills, how to use them safely, and the legality of them. 

The framework of reproductive justice, however, can be applied to educate, inform, and increase the use of medication abortion. Maintaining access to and improving education on this method is increasingly important as abortion rights are continuously being stripped away.   

A main principle of reproductive justice is to ensure all individuals have the means to prevent or end pregnancy, especially for marginalized populations.

The influx of telehealth services in recent years is a vital step toward greater equitable access to medication abortion due to the elimination of barriers such as travel and time costs for in-person care.

Telemedicine increases access to medication abortion for the most vulnerable individuals, including those in remote areas and low-resourced communities.

These services involve prescribing abortion pills that are received by mail or by picking them up.

Research has demonstrated that telehealth services are similar in effectiveness and safety compared to in-person abortion care with high levels of acceptability among patients.

One study found that 96.4% of telemedicine abortion care resulted in complete abortions, indicating its efficacy.

The person-centered approach of telehealth, which prioritizes reducing the challenges of individuals regarding access, reflects how such services provide tailored abortion care to a broader population that would otherwise not have access to safe and legal resources. 

While greater research should be conducted to improve access to services among the most marginalized and low-resourced populations, telehealth services are an important strategy and step towards improving access to safe and equitable abortion care for all.  

Besides equitable access, the principle of community engagement in reproductive justice reflects the power of mobilizing communities to inform and educate on medication abortion. 

Community engagement requires partnering directly with community members on health issues to better understand and shape action toward improving them.

In this digital age, community engagement takes on different non-traditional forms. The power of social media for disseminating information and engaging with larger communities cannot be understated, especially for younger generations. 

Social media sites, particularly TikTok, have been argued to spread misinformation regarding medication abortion.However, a recent 2023 study found that, in actuality, medical abortion content on TikTok was reliable and accurate. 

With around 40% of young people utilizing TikTok before Google to search for information, engagement with this social media platform increases knowledge, counters abortion stigma, and empowers individuals, particularly in this post-Roe era.

Utilizing new digital pathways for community engagement directly reaches a wide audience for greater education and democratization of knowledge on medication abortion. 

Moreover, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their bodies is most effective in the hands of communities. Non-profit reproductive justice organizations remain cornerstones in safeguarding abortion rights. 

These organizations vary in their provision of local expertise, especially in states with the most restrictive abortion laws, or the use of national connections to create impact. Many focus on serving marginalized populations, including people of color, indigenous, rural, low-income, and LGBTQ+ communities.

Continuing to support the work of these organizations is crucial to protect these bastions of community activism for abortion rights.  

While the legality of medication abortion rests in the courts, this should not stop us from taking action to safeguard and increase access to this method. 

Reproductive justice principles illuminate areas to focus our time and effort on. Increasing equitable access to telehealth services and engaging communities via new and old methods equips and empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their bodies. 

The battle for reproductive justice does not solely lie in the hands of those in power; we must continue to fight for reproductive freedom for all.