TOPEKA— A Kansas House bill aimed at increasing access to telemedicine for its ability to bring health care services to rural areas has waded into the abortion debate because of a proposed ban on abortion-inducing drugs prescribed from afar.
Monday marked the second day of hearings on a bill that would recognize telemedicine. Insurers would not be allowed to deny coverage for telemedicine services they would otherwise cover if the patient sought in-person care.
Telemedicine is widely backed by health care providers, and the University of Kansas Medical Center and University of Kansas Health System have programs aimed at increasing access to health care in underserved areas. Opposition to the bill came from abortion rights advocates who took issue with a provision banning medically induced abortion provided over telemedicine.
Bob Eye, an attorney representing Trust Women Inc. and its Wichita-based clinic, said there was no reason to ban abortion via telemedicine, which he called safe and effective. He said the Supreme Court has rejected abortion laws that restrict access to abortion for reasons other than actual health risks.
“We urge that you not allow a bias against abortion care to be substituted for the good judgment of medical professionals and for the right of women to choose this care under the Constitution of the United States,” Eye said.
Rachel Sweet, regional director for public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said her organization was concerned the bill would “further codify” abortion restrictions in Kansas. Sweet said medically induced abortions were safe and used by most women seeking abortions in Kansas. She spoke against previous restrictions on abortion passed by the Kansas Legislature.
“We believe that health care policy should be based on scientific evidence, not politics,” Sweet said. “The decision to end a pregnancy is one that should lie solely with a pregnant woman in consultation with her physician, her family and sometimes her faith. It is a decision that is made with tremendous care and consideration.”
Kansans for Life Lobbyist Jeanne Gawdun said she believed medically induced abortions to be unsafe. She argued a woman who has complications resulting from an abortion would be far removed from the prescribing physician.
“Our concern is it’s bad medicine, and the Legislature twice has affirmed that,” Gawdun said. “It’s not something that we want to subject women and their unborn babies to here in the state of Kansas, and so we have to protect what the will of the Legislature has been all these years.”
The Kansas Legislature previously has passed bans on such telemedicine abortions, but Gawdun said a court blocked that ban. Gawdun submitted written testimony that was neutral on the telemedicine bill, but asked for a provision that would strike down the entire law if one portion of it were to be found unconstitutional, a “nonseverability clause.”
Former Gov. Sam Brownback said the bills he signed placing restrictions on abortion would be his legacy.
Several organizations also asked for a broader definition of health care providers to allow audiologists, physical therapists and others to provide services.