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Policy News

Montana Debates Telehealth Abortion Ban

By Ryan Mcaskill

The up-and-down journey of telemedicine legislation across the country continues to be a focus as new bills are presented and voted on that will either expand or restrict the uses of telehealth services. One of the more recent ones involves Montana and a bill that will ban the ability to administer a medical abortion during a telehealth appointment.

If implemented, House Bill 587, which is sponsored by Representative Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), would “prohibit a medical practitioner from performing or attempting to perform an abortion, including a chemically induced abortion, on a pregnant woman or prescribing abortion-inducing drugs except in the physical presence of the woman.” The first violation would be a misdemeanor, the second and subsequent would be a felony.

The bill has already passed the house during a 53-46 vote that was held earlier this month. The votes fell mainly along party lines,

Doctor are using telemedicine to offer abortion services to women, mainly in rural areas that do not have the ability to make the lengthy journey to a clinic for an in-person appointment. Instead they travel to a local health clinic where the medication is dispensed, sit with a nurse and meet with the doctor via video conferencing to discuss medical history, alternative options and risks.

Regier argues that in person visits are required to determine the exact number of weeks of the pregnancy and to ensure there are no other complications. He also presented evidence that medical abortions are risky for the woman and a doctor should be present incase there are complications, to ensure there is no drop in the standard of care.

There are many who oppose the bill, on the grounds that it is just a way to restrict abortion services, making them more difficult to get.

“This bill is part of a broader effort to restrict or end access to safe, legal abortion in Montana. Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor,” Martha Stahl, the president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, said in an interview. “No matter where a woman lives she should be able to access safe, quality healthcare.”

To show this, Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula), proposed an amendment to the bill that would “protect” men from having a vasectomy by telemedicine. That was voted down 55-45.

“We all know what this bill is about,” Hill said during the floor debate. “Let’s take our ‘nanny state’ [and] make it an inability to get reproductive care equally.”

The bill has just opened debate on the senate floor.

Legislation similar to this has been proposed in a number of states over the last year. There are currently 19 states that have banned the practice of telemedicine abortions.

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