A Kansas law prohibiting drug-induced abortions via telemedicine is being challenged by a women’s health clinic in Wichita that provides abortions.
Trust Women Wichita on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law from taking effect on Jan. 1.
“Our mission as an organization is to provide reproductive health care to people in the state of Kansas and elsewhere, and to provide that care to underserved communities,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women Wichita.
“So this (telemedicine) is a way for us to reach underserved communities and a way to expand access to abortion care.”
Kansas already requires a physician to be present for medication abortions. The procedure entails the administration of two pills – one in the clinic and the other outside the clinic. The complication rate is low.
“This ban has no medical basis; its sole purpose is to create more hurdles for Kansas women seeking an abortion,” Nancy Northrop, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of Trust Women, said in a statement. “In all medical contexts except abortion, Kansas authorizes physicians to use telemedicine to provide treatment and prescribe medication.”
The Kansas Telemedicine Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Jeff Colyer in May, is intended to encourage the use of telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients using telecommunications technology. The measure defines telemedicine and requires insurers to cover services provided via telemedicine in the same way they cover in-person office visits.
Anti-abortion language was thrown in at the last minute and was opposed by then-Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who this week was elected governor of Kansas and will be sworn in Jan. 14.
“The bill has been hijacked and highly politicized by inserting an unnecessary and unprecedented non-severability clause,” Kelly told the Topeka Capital-Journal at the time.
Kelly was referring to a provision in the law that would automatically wipe the entire telemedicine law off the books if the abortion ban is struck down.
Burkhart said the situation "illustrates how abortion care should not be segregated out from health care, because abortion care is health care.”
Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, fought to keep the non-severability clause in the bill in order to discourage court challenges.
In its lawsuit, Trust Women says there is no medical justification for prohibiting medication abortions administered through telemedicine.
“Studies have shown that telemedicine improves access to early medication abortion in underserved areas, enables women to be evaluated and treated sooner, and provides them with greater choice of abortion procedure,” it says.
The Wichita clinic says nearly half its abortion patients last year had medication abortions. Since introducing telemedicine, it’s been able to expand the provision of medication abortions from two days a week to additional weekdays and Saturdays, it says.
“Trust Women intends to further expand access to abortion care by offering medication abortion via telemedicine during evening hours and in more rural locations throughout Kansas, so that women are able to receive care closer to their homes,” the lawsuit states.
Trust Women Wichita is one of a handful of abortion facilities in Kansas. Others include Planned Parenthood facilities in Overland Park and Wichita, and the Center for Women’s Health in Overland Park.
The telemedicine ban is one of several abortion restrictions enacted by Kansas, as Trust Women Wichita’s lawsuit notes. Other restrictions include a ban on abortion after 22 weeks unless the mother’s life or health is imperiled; a ban on dilation and evacuation abortions; and a mandatory 24-hour wait period for women seeking abortions.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.