The growth of telemedicine is changing the shape of the health care field for both doctors and patients, but while it allows for a wide range of medical services to be accessed and dispensed remotely, it also allows for some abortions to be performed without a doctor's immediate supervision, and a group of Republican lawmakers wants to stop that.
In a news release issued Friday afternoon, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) announced the introduction of the "Teleabortion Prevention Act," along with six co-sponsors. The bill would make it a federal crime for a health care provider to perform a chemical abortion without physically examining the patient, being present for the procedure, and scheduling a follow-up appointment within two weeks of the procedure.
In a statement, Cassidy said the purpose of banning "teleabortion" is to protect women's safety.
"Louisiana requires a physician performing an abortion to have admitting rights at a local hospital," Cassidy, who is also a medical doctor, said. "This is for the safety of the mother. Teleabortion clearly does not comply."
A provider found in violation of the law could be subject to a maximum $1,000 fine and/or a maximum two-year prison sentence. However, the bill makes an exception in the case of an abortion "that is necessary to save the life of a mother."
A chemical — or "medical" — abortion can be conducted during the first few weeks of a pregnancy through the use of abortion drugs. In the case of an abortion conducted through telemedicine, the drugs can be authorized following a video consultation with a clinician, or — in the case of a pilot program in some states — the drugs can be mailed directly to the abortion-seeking woman after a video consultation, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. The first telemedicine abortion program was started by Planned Parenthood in Iowa in 2008, Wired reported.
"Prescribing chemical abortions to moms over the internet without an examination or even physically seeing them is not health care," said Sen. James Lankford (R-Olka.), one of the bill's co-sponsors. "In addition to taking the life of an unborn child, chemical abortions can pose serious health risks and complications for pregnant women."
The release also claimed that the proposed federal ban would prevent pro-abortion groups from using remote medical services to get around state-level abortion laws.
As of January 2020, 18 states already had laws banning the use of telemedicine for abortion procedures, according to Guttmacher.