Telemedicine-enabled abortion restrictions spreading

Attempts to restrict abortions aided by telemedicine consults are spreading across the United States. Just last month, Missouri joined six other states that have enacted bans on telemedicine-enabled abortion. The practice is now prohibited in 11 states, the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, told USA Today.

In Iowa, where telemedicine-enabled abortions were pioneered, fourteen medical professionals sought to halt the practice in the state. For the moment, legislators haven't taken action, but the Iowa Board of Medicine voted in June to move ahead with rules that would effectively ban it. A public hearing is set for Aug. 28 before the board, the Des Moines Register reports.

"Telemedicine is spreading across the country in chronic disease and mental healthcare, but abortion's the only way we're seeing it restricted," says Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. "Whenever there's advancement in healthcare, an abortion restriction is never far behind."

The program, according to an analysis published last November in the American Journal of Public Health, increased access to abortion in rural areas, but didn't result in a corresponding increase in abortions statewide. After four years of the program, the abortion rate in Iowa decreased after women had access to telemedicine consults and an abortion pill, while the proportion of abortions performed for medical reasons increased from 46 percent to 54 percent.

Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue told USA Today they don't think this type of treatment would be acceptable for other procedures, saying, "pills are being distributed like Tic Tacs."

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said to USA Today that outlawing telemedicine abortions would burden women by forcing them to seek doctors in unfamiliar areas.

"If she is not able to obtain the care she needs in her own community, then she has to leave her community, her support system and her hometown," June said.

There have been no across-the- board bans on telemedicine, although last year, a Georgia Composite Medical Board proposed rule that would require an in-person exam by a physician before a patient could receive telemedicine care stalled.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today article