Planned Parenthood offers abortion pills via app to expand access in Illinois

It’s the latest move to expand access to abortion in Illinois as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to block access to mifepristone.

mifepristone
Bottles of abortion pills mifepristone, left, and misoprostol, right, are shown, Sept. 22, 2010, at a clinic in Des Moines, Iowa. Planned Parenthood is launching a new service on its app that will allow people in Illinois to request access to the drugs without seeing a doctor. Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press
mifepristone
Bottles of abortion pills mifepristone, left, and misoprostol, right, are shown, Sept. 22, 2010, at a clinic in Des Moines, Iowa. Planned Parenthood is launching a new service on its app that will allow people in Illinois to request access to the drugs without seeing a doctor. Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

Planned Parenthood offers abortion pills via app to expand access in Illinois

It’s the latest move to expand access to abortion in Illinois as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to block access to mifepristone.

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Looking to expand access to medication abortion even further in Illinois, Planned Parenthood is allowing people to request access to the drugs without seeing a doctor.

Patients who are up to 10 weeks pregnant can fill out screening questions on the Planned Parenthood Direct app any time of the day and provide an Illinois address where their medication abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol would be mailed if they qualify. That could be a house, or a hotel. Some Planned Parenthood affiliates already mail pills to patients, but require at least a virtual visit with a medical provider first.

“This is just for us the next step in reducing barriers for folks who don’t want to make it all the way to a health center or who need the privacy of being able to do it from their home,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

A provider will review a patient’s answers via the app within 24 hours and, if approved, mail the medication to the patient. A visit with a doctor isn’t required. McNicholas’ Planned Parenthood affiliate is implementing the program for all patients in Illinois.

McNicholas said Planned Parenthood affiliates in Maryland, Washington and Hawaii also provide this service via the PP Direct app, and there are other companies and providers throughout the country that do so as well.

The latest move to expand access to abortion in Illinois comes as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to block access to mifepristone, part of the two-drug combination to end a pregnancy. If that happens, McNicholas said her providers would pivot to offering misoprostol only. McNicholas works at a clinic in Fairview Heights in southern Illinois, just over the border from Missouri where abortion is banned.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade nearly two years ago, ending the constitutional right to an abortion. Since then, more than a dozen states have banned or heavily restricted the procedure. Many of these states are in the South and Midwest, fueling a pipeline of patients to Illinois.

Illinois was among states with the biggest surges in patients receiving an abortion from April 2022 to December 2023, according to a new report from WeCount, an organization that tracks abortion trends across the U.S. There also was a big surge in Florida, which recently banned most abortions after six weeks.

In Illinois, more than half of people who received an abortion in 2022 did so with medication, state public health data shows. Nationwide, medication abortion has become more common for years, accounting for more than 60 percent of all abortions in the U.S. in 2023, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports reproductive rights.

McNicholas said she hopes the new service for medication abortion in Illinois will open up appointments for patients who want or need to have an abortion in person in Fairview Heights. If more people use the app, they might not seek an appointment in the clinic.

Since Florida banned most abortions on May 1, for example, there have been more calls for appointments, and wait times for a procedure are creeping up to a week. McNicholas said wait times of about a week are an “operational flag” when her team would decide either to work longer days or add more days in the week when they provide abortions.

“Not there yet, but we are getting close again,” McNicholas said.

The new service via PP Direct will cost $200 and is not covered by insurance, though McNicholas said Planned Parenthood is working with insurers to do so. Patients could already use PP Direct for other services, such as birth control or treatment for urinary tract infections.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County government for WBEZ.