Planned Parenthood Great Plains began offering patients the option of telemedicine consultation with a physician after a Kansas judge blocked a ban on use of telehealth services for medication abortions. That step also followed the landslide rejection of a Kansas constitutional amendment jeopardizing abortion rights in the state. In this image, Lawrence residents rally against the amendment. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Lawrence Journal-World)
TOPEKA — A Kansas district court judge’s decision to block enforcement of a ban on telemedicine abortions opened the door for Planned Parenthood in Wichita to offer patients the option of consulting with an off-site physician before being prescribed medication to terminate a pregnancy.
Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, or CHPPGP, initiated telehealth medication abortion services Monday to broaden the pool of doctors available to consult with Kansas women and to grapple with the surge in patients from other states eluding laws undercutting abortion rights. The objective of Planned Parenthood is to deploy comparable telemedicine services at clinics in the Kansas City area.
“Offering medication abortion through telehealth allows CHPPGP to meet the needs of more patients, in an even more timely manner, by greatly increasing the number of physicians available to deliver care,” said Emily Wales, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ patients receiving a medication abortion through the telehealth process must undergo an onsite evaluation and complete consent requirements. Telehealth physicians working with those patients can be in other cities in Kansas or in any state where abortion is legal. All physicians providing medication abortions via telehealth must be licensed to provide care in Kansas.
“This is a win not only for Kansans but for patients in surrounding states traveling for care, who have suffered as politicians prioritized scoring points over the rights of patients,” Wales said.
The decision to proceed with telemedicine consultations for medication abortions followed the preliminary injunction granted in November by Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson to halt enforcement of a 2011 statute forbidding medication abortions through telemedicine. Her ruling meant patients in Kansas no longer had to meet in person with a physician prior to receiving the first dose of medication halting a pregnancy.
That lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights three years ago on behalf of Trust Women, which operates a clinic in Wichita. Trust Women operates a clinic in Oklahoma City, but stopped performing abortions due to a pair of Oklahoma laws banning abortion. In Oklahoma, performing an abortion would be considered a felony offense punishable by 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
In August, Kansans voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have nullified a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 guaranteeing women a right to abortion services.
Debate about the Kansas amendment evolved into a potent political battle after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the national right to abortion embodied in the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision.
Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansans for Life, said the anti-abortion organization was opposed to telemedicine abortions because there were health benefits to requiring a physician to be present. She said work by Planned Parenthood Great Plains to accommodate larger numbers of abortions demonstrated why the Kansas Constitution ought to have been amended to shield reasonable restrictions in state law.
“Pro-life Kansans have issued urgent, repeated warnings since 2019 that the abortion industry planned to push for the overturn of reasonable, existing limits on abortion and make our state an ever-growing regional destination for abortion,” Underwood said.
She said Kansans for Life would consider “every possible course of action, including legal remedies, and plans to continue to pursue legislation” regarding potential risks of medication abortions.
In the past, Planned Parenthood Great Plains depended on fly-in physicians at its Kansas health centers when it wasn’t possible to staff a full-time doctor. The district court judge’s decision meant it was no longer necessary to physically deliver doctors to Kansas to authorize a medication abortion, which is the most common approach to terminating a pregnancy and typically relied upon in the first 10 weeks.
Iman Alsaden, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the abortion provider had dealt with many obstacles created in Kansas and other states. Kansas witnessed an influx of women from Missouri, Arkansas and Texas seeking abortions.
“By offering medication abortion via telehealth in Kansas, we can now see patients we might not otherwise have been able to treat because of a lack of provider coverage in this region. It’s an important step in expanding access in a state like Kansas that has proven it values every person’s ability to make their own health care decisions,” Alsaden said.
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