clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bill prohibiting abortion pill prescriptions via telemedicine on hold

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would bar doctors from using telemedicine to remotely prescribe abortion-inducing medication was put on hold in a Senate committee Monday, allowing more time for public comment before lawmakers decide whether to recommend it to the full Senate.

The House last week voted 56-15 to approve HB154, leaving the Senate floor as the bill's last obstacle before landing on Gov. Gary Herbert's desk for consideration.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to delay a decision on HB154 until its Tuesday meeting, allowing for more discussion.

The bill mainly promotes the use of telemedicine services, an increasingly popular practice where doctors use webcams to consult with patients remotely. It's particularly beneficial for those who live in rural areas.

A line included at the bottom of the bill prohibits doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication remotely through electronic means.

Last week on the House floor, Democrats tried to remove that restriction, arguing it would unfairly reduce access to the drug of women living in rural areas. They also warned that the law would likely be challenged in court.

The controversial bill drew a packed room for the committee hearing, but it was addressed for less than an hour before the meeting was scheduled to adjourn, leaving little time for public comment.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said abortion-inducing medication shouldn't be prescribed remotely, arguing it could jeopardize the health of women who don't receive face-to-face interaction from a doctor and could experience medical complications as a result.

Ivory said the bill aims to "protect the health and safety of women" in Utah and codifies recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that abortion-inducing medication shouldn't be prescribed without risk evaluations.

Ivory also proposed an amendment to strike a clause that would exempt cases of rape, incest or instances when the mother's life would be endangered without an abortion, arguing those cases increase the need for pregnant women to seek face-to-face counsel with a doctor rather than through telemedicine.

"It's even more necessary that you have face-to-face medical care in those situations," he said.

Laura Bunker, with Family Policy Resource, urged lawmakers to support the bill, saying abortion-inducing medication can be "deadly" for those who experience an atopic pregnancy, or when the egg implants outside of the uterus.

"That's why this is so important," Bunker said. "An atopic pregnancy can only be diagnosed in a clinic through a medical exam, blood test or ultrasound."

Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, called the bill "very concerning" because it would limit accessibility to the drug, particularly for women living in rural areas.

"If you're in rural Utah, your chances of getting service are slim," she said. "You may have a patient who will only get service through telehealth for an emergency situation."

Utah Planned Parenthood has expressed strong opposition to the bill, arguing that telemedicine delivery of abortion-inducing medication has been demonstrated to be just as safe and effective as in-person consultation.

"Women in Utah deserve the right to have access to the safest, highest-quality health care," Karrie Galloway, president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement issued Sunday. "These misguided laws do just the opposite by creating unnecessary hurdles to safe and legal abortion that are not grounded in science but are instead rooted in politics. Such restrictions are an affront to women and bad public health policy.”

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned why Ivory hadn't consulted with medical groups such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has published an opinion that abortion-inducing medication prescriptions written through telemedicine can be safe and effective, and it opposes laws that restrict that access.

Ivory said he's not changing the use of the medication but "simply codifying what the FDA and (the drug's) manufacturer says, that this is contraindicated for being used over the internet."

In response to questions about whether the law would be challenged by court, Ivory acknowledged there have been warnings of potential legal challenges to the law if it's passed. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that several Texas restrictions harmed women's constitutional right to access abortion.

"Nineteen states already have laws like this that have been upheld," Ivory said. "The state has a legitimate interest in protecting women's health."

DelAnne Haslam, a West Jordan resident, said in an interview after Monday's meeting that she planned to come back Tuesday to speak against the bill.

"This is more about controlling women and our bodies," she said.

Haslam said she used the abortion pill in 2013 after she had a miscarriage that wouldn't expel naturally. Without the pill, she would have needed medical attention, she said.

"It could have been very dangerous. Luckily I'm five minutes from my doctor," Haslam said, though she worried what someone living in a rural area would do in that situation.