Kansas Planned Parenthood Affiliate Offering Telemedicine Abortions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Planned Parenthood organization announced Tuesday that it has started teleconferences with offsite doctors for patients seeking a drug abortion at one of its Kansas clinics; A target for the procedure after the August vote confirming abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains said it began offering telemedicine consultations to patients visiting its Wichita clinic on Monday. President and CEO Emily Wales said the immediate goal is to have more days when patients can go there to have a drug abortion. He said his subsidiary hopes to offer the service to patients visiting two other clinics on the Kansas side of the Kansas City area “on a short notice” and eventually allow patients at state doctor’s offices and clinics to teleconference with their doctors.

The move came after Kansas abortion providers said they were seeing a flood of dating requests from women in states with stricter restrictions on abortion than Kansas, particularly Oklahoma and Texas. In August, Kansas voters voted decisively to maintain state constitutional protections for abortion rights.

The announcement comes less than a month after a state court judge blocked the enforcement of Kansas’s telemedicine abortion ban. The website abortionfinder.org lists 26 other states, including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Wyoming, where residents seeking abortion drugs can teleconference with doctors. However, for some states, the website only lists online pill providers such as Aid Access or carafem.

“My vision for telehealth medicine abortion is the same as my vision for abortion in general, which will be widely accessible to many providers,” Wales said in an interview before the announcement.

The blocked Kansas law required a doctor to be in the same room as a patient who typically received the first of two doses of medication to terminate the pregnancy. Another provider, a Wichita clinic run by abortion rights group Trust Women, offered telemedicine abortion for a few months in late 2018, but stalled at the time because the legal environment was unclear.

Trust Women also expects to offer telemedicine abortions, but said it considers what additional staff and infrastructure it will need.

Eighteen states have banned telemedicine abortions, according to national groups on both sides of the debate. It includes Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina.

Abortion opponents have long argued that bans on telemedicine protect women’s health by ensuring that a physician is available to deal with major problems, but research shows abortion pills are safe.

Wales said the long-term goal is to work with a statewide network of doctors or clinics so women don’t have to travel to the Wichita or Kansas City area to get abortion drugs.

Patients in states with more restrictive abortion laws will still have to travel to Kansas, as they do now. Teleconsulting doctors would also need to be licensed to practice medicine in Kansas, as they should now.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains is currently using existing staff and doctors to offer telemedicine abortion counseling to patients in Wichita. While the clinic sometimes has a doctor there three or four days a week, one day a week is typical, Wales said. The medical director of its subsidiary, Dr. Iman Alsaden said there would be no abortion appointment without a teleconference in Wichita on Monday.

The Planned Parenthood member currently offers some telehealth services, such as refilling birth control prescriptions or gender-affirming care visits for transgender patients. Wales said she decides every day how quickly to expand telemedicine abortion appointments.

Abortion providers had to wait until this year to get a clearer picture of the legality of telemedicine abortions. A statewide vote in August retained the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in April 2019 that access to abortion is a “fundamental” right under the state’s constitution.

The vote came amid Trust Women’s lawsuit against the state’s telemedicine abortion ban. This case led to the state court judge’s decision to block enforcement of the Kansas telemedicine abortion ban.

“We’re pretty confident that the courts are on our side and we have a very strong legal footing to stand on,” said Erin Thompson, general counsel at Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

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