Leaders of Ohio’s Planned Parenthoods say a bill to limit abortion-related telemedicine is not only unconstitutional, but cuts off access to safe health care for Ohioans who need it most.
Senate Bill 260 is set for a hearing and possible vote on Wednesday, to prevent the use of telemedicine as a way to prescribe and conduct abortions using the prescription drug Mifeprex.
Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said telemedicine has been used by their clinics for about two years, and the practice is safe, legal and follows “all of the strict laws of Ohio.”
“Telehealth is now an established way for providers to tend to patients, and they may not have to drive and it could be closer to home,” Harvey told the Capital Journal.
Telemedicine is a practice used in rural areas where women’s health clinics aren’t readily available, and by low-income individuals who may not be able to afford to drive to the nearest clinic, according to Harvey.
The American Hospital Association put out a report in February 2019 supporting the general expansion of patient access through telehealth services, even advocating for the expansion of Medicare coverage for it.
“Virtual care technology saves patients time and money, reduces patient transfers, emergency department and urgent care center visits, and delivers savings to payers,” the AHA report stated.
Opponents who testified recently about abortion care via telemedicine (who generally represented organizations with overall anti-abortion stances) say severe complications could arise in taking the medicine outside of a medical clinic or the in-person care of a doctor.
Harvey and others from the reproductive health clinics say that argument omits certain regulations in Ohio law that the clinics follow, including the fact that in-person clinic visits are still required before the medicine is administered.
Ohio law mandates that a patient who visits a clinic for an abortion wait 24 hours before having the procedure. The first clinic visit includes an ultrasound legally required by the state, medical labs for a comprehensive rundown of the patient’s health, and the time it takes a physician to review the lab tests and explain the process to the patient.
Where telemedicine comes into play, Harvey said, is the state-mandated second visit.
“It’s a hardship for many people to come back on the second visit,” Harvey said. “(For the first visit) they’ve already had to take time off work, they may have to drive from a rural community so there’s gas costs, all of those things.”
For people of color, members of the LBGTQIA+ community and those in remote areas of the state, laws like Senate Bill 260 only create more barriers to proper medical care, according to Kersha Deibel, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio.
“Being able to provide a service like telemedicine allows us and allows our patients to have the best care that meets them where they are,” Deibel said in a Monday interview. “(This bill) is just an attempt by the legislature to put an ideology out there to pander to the population who wants to see abortion eliminated.”
Harvey and Deibel both cited court cases, one in the Iowa Supreme Court that declared a ban on telemedicine abortion unconstitutional, and one in Idaho in which lawmakers repealed two abortion laws —including a telemedicine bill — after a judge said he would strike them down if passed.
Planned Parenthood officials said they stand ready to “explore all options” if the Ohio bill is passed.
Senate Bill 260 is scheduled for its third hearing and a possible vote Wednesday afternoon in the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.