This week the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that would have shut the doors on half the state’s abortion clinics. I blogged about this case back in April, where I argued against restricting access to abortions and instead providing greater access to contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies. Luckily, thanks to innovative health care, women are getting greater access to birth control online. According to a recent New York Times report, women are utilizing new apps and websites to get birth control without having to visit a doctor’s office.
Using the app, women answer questions about their health and a doctor reviews their medical history. After a phone or video call with a doctor, the woman gets the birth control in the mail or at her local pharmacy for a reasonable price.
Using websites and apps like these helps overcome barriers that many women face trying to access birth control. These can include cost, proximity to a doctor, expensive insurance co-pay fees, the inconvenience of missing time from work for an appointment, and stigma and lack of privacy – especially for girls and young women.
Increased access can also greatly help to limit the number of unintended pregnancies. Nearly half (45%) of all births in the U.S. are unplanned, which costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $11.1 billion dollars a year. Young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are the least likely to use birth control, primarily because they are afraid their parents will find out. If we can provide this group with greater access to birth control, it can help decrease abortions and also teen pregnancy. It will also save the government money through Medicaid spending.
These apps do not require additional legislation because they still require clinicians to write the prescriptions, so they somewhat avoid the conservative and religious zealots that try to limit women’s reproductive rights. Currently, there are at least six nonprofit and for-profit apps, one of which is run by Planned Parenthood and available in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, and Washington State. Other apps include Nurx, Lemonaid, and Maven. All provide access to birth control pills, but differ on price and availability of other prescriptions. The New York Times has a quick four-question survey that can suggest which app or website might be the best fit for a woman’s needs.
It is worth noting that sources in both the New York Times report and a Los Angeles Times article caution that these apps could lead to decreased face-time with a doctor and regular doctor’s visits, which address a woman’s reproductive health beyond her contraceptive needs. For this reason, the nurse quoted in the L.A. Times article suggested seeing a doctor in-person for the first prescription and then use the apps for refills. However, it seems the annual pelvic exam may be causing more harm than good, according to new guidelines announced this week by U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, so maybe a regular in-person visit isn’t necessary for a woman who doesn’t have any health concerns.
Since these apps are relatively new, we don’t yet know their effect on access to birth control and unintended pregnancies, but I think this could be a huge breakthrough for women’s reproductive health.