Na­tional group chal­lenges Kansas telemedicine abor­tion ban

The Wichita Eagle - - News - BY DION LEFLER dle­fler@wi­chi­taea­

A na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion is chal­leng­ing a Kansas law that pro­hibits a Wi­chita women’s clinic from pro­vid­ing abor­tions via telemedicine to pa­tients in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties of the state.

The Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights filed suit in John­son County on be­half of Trust Women of Wi­chita. The or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­ates the South Wind Women’s Cen­ter at the site of the for­mer clinic of Ge­orge Tiller, a doc­tor who was stalked and shot to death at his church by an abor­tion op­po­nent in 2009.

Trust Women has used two-way au­dio-video telemedicine tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide med­i­ca­tion abor­tion ser­vices to women who live in re­mote ru­ral parts of the state, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the cen­ter.

The law­suit seeks to block im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Kansas Telemedicine Act, which was passed in March and is due to take ef­fect on Jan. 1. That law re­quires that a doc­tor be phys­i­cally present when the pa­tient takes an abor­tion-in­duc­ing drug called Mifepri­s­tone, also known as RU-486.

Sup­port­ers of abor­tion rights have ar­gued for years that such re­stric­tions are un­nec­es­sary and it’s bet­ter for women to take the drug at home be­cause of cramp­ing and vagi­nal bleed­ing that are part of the drug’s nor­mal op­er­a­tion.

The court fil­ing says the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture sin­gled out abor­tion for pro­hi­bi­tion for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons while al­low­ing the use of telemedicine for more com­pli­cated and dan­ger­ous treat­ments in­clud­ing autism di­ag­no­sis, car­di­ol­ogy, on­col­ogy/ hema­tol­ogy, pain man­age­ment and pe­di­atrics.

“By treat­ing women seek­ing abor­tions dif­fer­ently from sim­i­larly-sit­u­ated pa­tients seek­ing all other forms of med­i­cal care de­liv­ered via telemedicine, the Act vi­o­lates the rights of Plain­tiff’s pa­tients to equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law,” the law­suit said. “The Act fur­ther vi­o­lates Plain­tiff’s rights to equal pro­tec­tion by treat­ing them dif­fer­ently from all other health care providers who pro­vide health care via telemedicine with­out a ra­tio­nal ba­sis to do so.”

State Rep. John Whit­mer, R-Wi­chita was part of the con­ser­va­tive bloc that passed the abor­tion telemedicine ex­cep­tion.

“We’re a pro-life state, so that’s why,” it was in the bill, Whit­mer said.

He said he thinks the law will sur­vive court chal­lenge.

“No mat­ter what they (abor­tion rights sup­port­ers) want to say and no mat­ter what cocka­mamie in­ter­pre­ta­tions the Kansas Supreme Court might come up with, in our Con­sti­tu­tion, there is no right to an abor­tion,” Whit­mer said.

The law­suit comes two days af­ter the big­gest po­lit­i­cal vic­tory of the last eight years for abor­tion­rights sup­port­ers in Kansas, Sen. Laura Kelly’s elec­tion as gover­nor.

On the cam­paign trail, Kelly, a Demo­crat, touted her 100 per­cent vot­ing record against abor­tion-restrict­ing bills and said it would not be enough to just veto fu­ture bills. Dur­ing the cam­paign she called for rolling back some abor­tion bills she thinks went too far.

In Jan­uary, Kelly will re­place the staunchly an­tiabor­tion Repub­li­can Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took over from Gov. Sam Brown­back, who had vowed to sign any anti-abor­tion bill the Leg­is­la­ture could send to his desk.

“I would as­sume that the in­com­ing gover­nor will scru­ti­nize those bills a bit more,” said Julie Burkhart, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Trust Women and a for­mer spokes­woman and po­lit­i­cal as­sis­tant to Tiller.

She said Kelly’s win is a clear vic­tory for abor­tion rights and women’s rights in Kansas, but there’s still pres­sure for ad­vo­cates to work hard be­cause the Leg­is­la­ture hasn’t changed much.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly happy she’s been elected gover­nor, but we def­i­nitely still have our work cut out in the Leg­is­la­ture,” she said. “I can’t speak for her of course, (but) then it’s also our job as ad­vo­cates to help make sure we have law­mak­ers who are go­ing to back her up.”

The law­suit also dropped the same day as Trust Women is hold­ing its an­nual fund-rais­ing gala, this year fea­tur­ing as key­note speaker Wil­lie Parker, a Mis­sis­sippi physi­cian who per­forms abor­tion and has been criss-cross­ing the coun­try ad­vo­cat­ing for abor­tion rights.

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