Giving women access to abortion over "telemedicine," or a secure webcam-style consultation with a doctor, can dramatically reduce the need for a surgical abortion -- and may reduce the need for abortion altogether, according to a new study.

"After telemedicine was introduced, women were more likely to have their abortion earlier, before 14 weeks of pregnancy, and to obtain a medical abortion (instead of a surgical abortion). The total number of abortions in the state did not increase after telemedicine abortions began to be offered; instead the number decreased," according to a press release Ibis Reproductive Health sent on Wednesday.

The study, published in the online version of American Journal of Public Health and conducted with Ibis' Dr. Dan Grossman with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Florida State University, looked at the unidentified billing data of 18,000 women in Iowa who were seeking reproductive health services at an Iowa Planned Parenthood. After the telemedicine system was implemented, the average annual abortion rate per 1,000 women of reproductive age in the state went from 11.4 in the two years before the clinics offered a telemedicine service to 10.2 in the two years after.

Ibis noted that the declining abortion rate is consistent with declining abortion trends nationally.

Telemedicine is especially crucial for women in rural areas who live far from an abortion clinic or other women's health center, requiring long trips, accommodation costs, child care and requesting time off from work.

Unfortunately, many states have moved toward restricting telemedicine for medicine abortion access rather than expanding it. The Guttmacher Institute notes that seven states have laws that require a physician to be physically present when administering medical abortion, effectively banning telemedicine: Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin. (North Dakota passed a similar law but a court has temporarily enjoined the mearsue.) These states require a doctor present despite the fact that complications as a result of taking the most common abortion drug, mifepristone, are considered rare.

The United Nations also released a report on Wednesday that said, "Family planning is not a privilege, but a right." The report further estimated that giving women access to contraception, a "fundamental human right," would give a $57 billion boost to the world economy.

[Woman taking a pill in front of her laptop via Shutterstock]

[Ed. note: We mistakenly published this piece on 11/14/2012 in advance of the embargo, but corrected our error as soon as possible. We apologize to the authors of the study and our readers for the error.]