TOPEKA — The leader of a Lawrence organization that discourages pregnant women from seeking abortions urged lawmakers Wednesday to ban doctors from using video consultations to prescribe abortion pills.
Bridgit Smith, executive director of the Insight Women’s Centre, said she recently heard of a woman who used an online service to connect with a doctor in the UK who then prescribed pills shipped from India. The woman received the drug three weeks later with little instruction, Smith said.
“There are many ways this process could go wrong, jeopardizing women’s health and well-being,” Smith said. “And there’s nothing in this process that should be considered health care.”
The Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare heard testimony from Smith and two other supporters of Senate Bill 5, which would attempt to prevent the use of telehealth services to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs. The proposed legislation would also prevent the governor from suspending the law during a state of emergency.
Senator Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson sponsored the bill.
The anti-abortion restriction on telemedicine already exists in Kansas law, but it was overturned last fall by a Shawnee County District Court judge. The new law, if passed, would invite an immediate legal challenge.
“It just leads to lawsuits, expensive lawsuits,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the Kansas Constitution’s right to bodily autonomy includes the right to terminate a pregnancy. Kansas voters in August overwhelmingly rejected an anti-abortion amendment to the constitution.
However, Republican lawmakers in this session presented various proposals to limit access to reproductive health care. Steffen’s bill was the first to receive a hearing.
“The people of Kansas have stated that they want local, legal access to abortion care in Kansas, and lawmakers just aren’t listening,” said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women, in an interview after the hearing.
Trust Women operates an abortion clinic in Wichita.
Gingrich-Gaylord said Smith’s story about using telehealth to connect with a foreign doctor is an indicator that Kansans need more local access to abortion services.
“People are seeking abortion care regardless of anti-abortion efforts to limit them,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “If it’s really a problem for a doctor in the UK to prescribe a safe drug, then let’s find ways to make sure doctors in Kansas can do it for patients in Kansas.”
The mifepristone pill is the most frequent method of terminating a pregnancy in Kansas, accounting for about two-thirds of abortions reported to state health officials. More than 90 percent of abortions are performed within 12 weeks of gestation, and state law prohibits abortions beyond 22 weeks except to save a mother’s life.
Carol Daunis, a woman on the Olathe GOP district committee, appeared via video link to testify before the committee. She submitted a photo she took at an exhibit at the Statehouse featuring the preamble to the state’s constitution, with “We, the People” in large letters.
“Ethically speaking,” Daunis said, lawmakers must consider whether an unborn child is “a human fetus” or “a human being.”
“He has a heartbeat, so he’s alive and growing,” Daunis said. “If you’re not sure, then consider it.”
A fetus, he argued, should have the same rights and privileges as an adult human being.
“The fact that we have the Internet in our society shouldn’t be used to decide whether or not a child should be born,” Daunis said. “A human life is sacred. It shouldn’t be treated as if you were buying a new TV for your home over the Internet. If a mother doesn’t want a child, she puts it up for adoption. It’s that simple.”
Gingrich-Gaylord said Daunis had presented “a really insensitive and false comparison”.
“The patients we see are caring people,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “Around 70% of the people we meet are already parents. They know very well what it takes to raise children and they come to us because they want to be better parents for the child they already have. These are real people, real individuals, who have taken this seriously and are considering their own lives.