A Kansas clinic affiliated with the United States reproductive health group Planned Parenthood revealed on Tuesday that it had begun teleconferencing with off-site doctors for patients seeking medication abortions.
As per Al Jazeera, the action is viewed as a tiny step toward potentially expanding abortion access in a state that has become a destination for the procedure since August’s affirmation of abortion rights. This statewide referendum occurred less than two months after the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The decision to overturn Roe has largely left the legality of abortion to the discretion of individual states.
Monday, Planned Parenthood Great Plains began delivering telemedicine consultations to patients visiting its clinic in Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, through video conference on a smartphone, computer, or tablet. President and CEO of the affiliate, Emily Wales, stated that the immediate objective is to increase the number of days on which patients can obtain medication abortions.
She said that her affiliate wants to provide the service “in short order” to patients visiting its other two clinics on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Missouri state line. Eventually, people at doctor’s offices and clinics around the state will be able to teleconference with Planned Parenthood clinicians.
The move comes as Kansas abortion clinics report an influx of appointment requests from women in states with stricter abortion restrictions than Kansas, including Oklahoma and Texas. Voters in Kansas reaffirmed state constitutional safeguards for abortion rights in August.
The announcement on Tuesday comes less than a month after a state judge halted the enforcement of Kansas’ ban on telemedicine abortions. The restriction would have required a physician to be present in the same room as a patient taking what is normally the first of two abortion pills.
Including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Wyoming, the abortionfinder.org website offers 26 additional states where residents seeking abortion medicines can teleconference with doctors. In many states, however, the website lists only online pharmacies, such as Aid Access and carafem.
Wales stated in an interview prior to the announcement, “My vision for telehealth medication abortion is the same as my vision for abortion in general, which is that it would be broadly available by many clinicians.”
Another provider, a Wichita clinic managed by the abortion rights organization Trust Women, offered telemedicine abortions for a few months in late 2018 but discontinued the service due to the unclear legal situation.
Trust Women also plans to offer abortions via telemedicine; however, the company has stated that it is evaluating the additional personnel and infrastructure requirements. According to national organizations on both sides of the issue, eighteen states have implemented bans on telemedicine abortions. Included among them are Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina.
Although research indicates that abortion drugs are safe, abortion opponents have long contended that telemedicine prohibitions protect women’s health by ensuring a physician is present to treat significant complications.
Wales stated that the long-term objective is to establish a network of doctors or clinics throughout the state so that women do not have to travel to Wichita or the Kansas City area to acquire abortion drugs. Patients from states with more restrictive abortion laws would still be required to go to Kansas. Doctors conducting teleconsultations would be required to be licensed to practice medicine in Kansas, as they are currently.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains is utilizing its current personnel and physicians to provide telemedicine abortion consultations to Wichita patients. Wales stated that although the clinic occasionally has a doctor present three or four days per week, one day per week is the norm. Without teleconferencing, there would have been no abortion appointments on Monday in Wichita, according to the medical director of her affiliate, Dr. Iman Alsaden.
The affiliate of Planned Parenthood currently provides certain telehealth services, including as birth control prescription refills and gender-affirming care visits for transgender patients. Wales stated that the affiliate is currently determining daily the rate of expansion of telemedicine abortion appointments.
Until last year, abortion practitioners lacked a deeper understanding of the legalities of telemedicine abortions. The statewide vote in August upheld the Kansas Supreme Court’s April 2019 judgment that abortion access is a “fundamental” state constitutional right.
Trust Women was pursuing a lawsuit against the state’s restriction on telemedicine abortions at the time of the vote. This lawsuit resulted in the state court judge prohibiting the Kansas telemedicine abortion ban’s enforcement.
Erin Thompson, the general counsel for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, stated, “We’re fairly certain that the courts are on our side and that we have a very solid legal footing.”