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Senate works on Kansas bill to block abortion drug prescriptions via telemedicine

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate plans to vote Thursday on legislation to ban the use of telehealth services to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs and to ban warrant watering during any disaster-declared emergency by the state governor.

The strategy is to add the contents of Senate Bill 5 to an anti-abortion telemedicine statute that has been temporarily banned since November 2022 by a Shawnee County District Court judge, but remains on the books. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in March.

The Senate’s implementation of the bill could add a new layer to the telemedicine abortion lawsuits in Kansas, which began in 2011 with challenges to a law that required doctors to be present when patients were prescribed drugs that led to ‘abortion.

“This does not ban chemical abortions through medication,” Senator Beverly Gossage said, R-Eudora. “She’s just saying don’t use telehealth because of the risks and dangers.”

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, said medical abortions were “extremely safe” and less risky than wisdom tooth removal or a colonoscopy procedure. He said serious complications from a prescription-induced abortion occurred in fewer than 0.03 percent of patients.

Pettey said anti-abortion advocates have called for the legislation in response to the August 2022 failure of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have overturned a state Supreme Court decision in 2019 granting people bodily autonomy and , by extension, the right to terminate a pregnancy. The senator said Kansas opposed removing abortion rights from the state constitution. Putting the bill into a statute could lead to costly litigation, he said.

“What we’re really talking about in this bill is that there was a deciding vote in Kansas on August 2, where nearly 70 percent of Kansasans said they didn’t want to ban women’s empowerment,” Pettey said. “We are wasting precious time on legislation because citizens support our constitution.”

The Senate was expected to vote by roll call on Thursday on the bill introduced by Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson. If approved, it would go to the House.

Steffen responded to Pettey’s comments during the Senate debate Wednesday by referencing a research paper on the use of mifepristone for medical abortions from 2000 to 2019 in the United States. A summary was published in PubMed, an online information library hosted by the National Institute of Health, but originally published in Issues in Law and Medicine in 2021.

The study’s lead investigator was retired physician Kathi Aultman, a frequent speaker at anti-abortion events such as the 2019 Washington, DC, March for Life Rally. He is also a member of the American Association of Prolife Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“There have been more deaths, like 20 deaths, associated with mifepristone,” Steffen said. “The point is that deaths result, severe bleeding. There are many complications associated with taking these abortifacient drugs.

Aultman’s report documented 20 victims, but the list included four from drug overdoses, three suspected homicides, one suicide, and one death of unknown reasons. The researchers identified nine deaths from sepsis, one from hemorrhage and one from ectopic pregnancy.

Mifepristone is the drug most frequently prescribed to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. More than 90% of abortions in Kansas occurred within 12 weeks of gestation.

On February 6, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sent a letter to Walgreens asking the company not to dispense mifepristone from Kansas pharmacies. Walgreens responded to the Attorney General on Feb. 17 indicating that it would not distribute the drug in its pharmacies at this time.

Kobach filed a letter this week with CVS Health asking the company to likewise decline to distribute that drug in Kansas.

“Dispensing these pills without the presence of a supervising physician would expose women to complications and potentially even coercion,” Kobach said.

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