More and more health care has moved online during the coronavirus pandemic, including abortion services. And that’s something Ohio Republican legislators appear ready to stop.
Senate Bill 260, which is scheduled for its final votes Thursday, would ban the use of telemedicine for medication abortions by requiring physicians to be physically present when both pills are taken. Doctors who violate the law could face felony charges.
Republicans who dominate both branches of the legislature and Ohio Right to Life say this would protect women seeking abortions. But Democrats and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio say it would only make things more complicated and more expensive.
Medication or medical abortion is legal in Ohio until 10 weeks after the first day of a woman’s last period. It’s done using two drugs given about 48 hours apart. Currently, some women choose to take that second pill remotely. SB 260 would outlaw that.
“The actual abortion still happens at home. They would just take the medicine there,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann said. “It has zero impact on safety, but it has a massive impact on cost.”
A second office visit comes with fees, time off work, drive time, gas money and possibly child care, Mann said. All that makes the cost of medical abortion more expensive and riskier in the midst of a global pandemic.
Planned Parenthood told NPR last spring that its clinics in Iowa saw a 33% increase in telemedicine abortion services. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio didn’t have numbers on how many women have requested telehealth services for their second visits.
“I think it’s one more attempt to limit access to legal, safe abortion in the state of Ohio,” Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said.
But Donna Harrison, from the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, disagreed. In her testimony to a House committee, she said telemedicine shouldn’t be used for procedures and taking an abortion pill is a procedure.
She and others pointed to the fact that the Food and Drug Administration requires the first pill, mifepristone, to be dispensed in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital.
“It is clear from the scientific literature that telemedicine abortions in remote areas will initiate a procedure that commonly results in hemorrhage, ER visits, need for emergency surgery, transfusions, etc.,” Harrison said. “This places the women in remote areas at the highest risk of turning a manageable complication into something life-threatening or fatal.”
However, the FDA has an ongoing TelAbortion Study in eight states where all visits for medication abortions are done remotely. Any required tests (blood work, ultrasounds) are done at local facilities and the pills are mailed to the patient’s home.
“The argument that it is not safe is a fringe opinion,” Russo said.
The bill is expected to pass on a party-line vote Thursday, and there’s the potential for amendments containing additional abortion restrictions.
Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati is calling for stricter ultrasound requirements and prohibiting Ohio’s public colleges and universities from affiliating with doctors who perform abortions.