Pro-life Kansans received a blow last week when a judge ruled in favor of abortions by teleconference, something many thought was already prohibited in their state.
Tele-abortions allow a woman to end her baby’s life without visiting an abortion center. An abortionist can video conference with a pregnant woman from a remote location and immediately prescribe her abortion-inducing drugs. The arrangement leaves women vulnerable to medical complications without a provider close by to treat them.
Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis ruled Dec. 31 that a 2018 law safeguarding unborn babies from tele-abortion was invalid and the practice had been legal in Kansas since 2011, when a court order in a different case blocked a similar law. But Kansas state legislators passed another law in 2015 prohibiting tele-abortions.
“Everybody we know, including the pro-abortion groups and our attorney general and our advisers in the state capital, considered the 2015 law operable and in effect and this judge’s claim to be wrong,” Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, told me.
Abortionists, she said, had even been obeying the law by not performing tele-abortions until last fall, when the issue came up again because of language in a broader bill about telemedicine in Kansas.
“Judge Theis is standing like a sentinel in front of the abortion clinics in not letting the 2011 law out from under his grasp, even though he’s wrong in saying the 2015 telemedicine law didn’t replace it, because it did,” Culp said.
Rachel Busick, an attorney with Americans United for Life, told me the case of the 2011 telemedicine law is still at the trial stage. Until Theis rules on that law, legislators can only do so much.
Part of the reason the 2011 telemedicine law didn’t immediately stand up to a lawsuit, according to Busick, was that it didn’t include a provision for medical emergency for the mother. One of the challenges pro-life legislators face, she said, is to “ensure that [a proposed law] has the necessary provisions and framework to give it the best possible chance to survive any court challenge.”
Of the 20 states that have enacted similar laws, 16 have been able to retain them.
The laws began appearing in 2011 after news reports emerged that a Planned Parenthood facility in Iowa was dispensing the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 from doctors in one location to women at a different one. The abortionist and a pregnant woman would talk via two-way video. The abortionist would push a button, and a drawer containing the pills popped open in front of the woman.
Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee, told me that states responded by passing laws requiring the abortionist to be in the same room as the woman.
Idaho repealed its tele-abortion ban in 2017, and courts blocked a similar law in Iowa. Michigan had a law prohibiting tele-abortions that expired in December, and Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, vetoed an extension of the law the same day it expired.
Pro-abortion advocates are also attacking laws that allow only licensed physicians to prescribe abortion drugs. Most states have a physician-only stance, but California is poised to force its state university health centers to dispense the drugs, and Idaho is facing a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood over its law. A similar regulation in Montana is on hold under a preliminary injunction.
The push for expanding access to drug-induced abortion follows the easing of regulations on the pills by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Women see so-called chemical abortion as a cheaper, almost do-it-yourself procedure. But the regimen isn’t just deadly for babies: At least 22 women have died from abortion-inducing drugs as a result of complications, including undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy and systemic infection.
“Chemical abortions are dangerous,” Culp told me. “[Women] don’t bleed like their normal monthly cycle. They can bleed up to three months. And some women have bled to death from it. So the last thing we need is for this to be given by a doctor who’s five hours away by car in Kansas City.”