Center for Reproductive Rights Sues to Block Ban on Telemedicine Abortions in Kansas

With only four abortion clinics in Kansas, telemedicine is crucial to abortion access

(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging section 6 of the Kansas Telemedicine Act (House Bill 2028) which seeks to ban abortions administered through telemedicine, including medication abortion. The bill, which was signed into law on May 12, 2018, is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019.

The challenge was brought on behalf of Trust Women Wichita, a licensed ambulatory surgical center that has been providing safe, high-quality reproductive health care in Kansas since 2013. Telemedicine has allowed facilities like Trust Women to expand access to services. Before introducing telemedicine at their Wichita clinic, Trust Women was only able to provide abortion care two days a week: they are now able to offer medication abortion services on additional weekdays and on Saturdays.

If the Kansas Telemedicine Abortion Ban goes into effect, doctors would be required to be physically present when a woman takes medication to end her pregnancy, forcing many women to travel long distances for a simple medication abortion. Most women in Kansas don’t live in a county with an abortion clinic—in 2014, 97% of Kansas counties were without a single clinic that provided abortions. Medication abortion has been available in the U.S. since 2000 and is extremely safe—the serious complication rate is less than one-half of one percent, whether provided in-person or by telemedicine.

“At a time when more and more clinics are closing under the weight of government restrictions, telemedicine is an increasingly crucial option,” said Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ban has no medical basis; its sole purpose is to create more hurdles for Kansas women seeking an abortion. In all medical contexts except abortion, Kansas authorizes physicians to use telemedicine to provide treatment and prescribe medication. In treating abortion differently than other medical procedures, this ban violates the Equal Protection guarantee of the Kansas Constitution and creates an undue burden for Kansas women.”

Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women stated, “Our mission at Trust Women is to expand access to abortion care for underserved communities. Telemedicine allows us to bring access to even more patients and communities.  This ban hurts Kansas women by mandating that they must travel farther and pay more in gas, child care, lost wages and lodging to access necessary medical care.  Medication abortion is safe whether provided in-person or by telemedicine.  It is time for the state of Kansas to stop treating abortion differently from other types of health care and to start looking for solutions to providing adequate medical care for all Kansans.” 

While encouraging the use of telemedicine generally, the ban singles out abortion care from all other medical care. Kansas already utilizes telemedicine for medical services such as diagnosing and treating stroke victims, autism diagnosis, cardiology, oncology/hematology, pain management, pediatrics, psychiatry, and psychology. Telemedicine allows women to be evaluated and treated sooner and expands access to women in underserved areas.

In its complaint, the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that the ban unjustly singles out abortion care and creates an undue burden for women by restricting access without any countervailing health benefits. The Center asks the court to block the ban and safeguard access to safe and legal abortion for women in Kansas. A similar ban in Iowa was unanimously struck down in 2015 by the Iowa Supreme Court. The Court found the ban imposed an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion.

Kansas women already face a number of abortion restrictions—they are required to receive state-mandated information and then wait at least 24-hours before obtaining an abortion. Women on Medicaid and state employees cannot use their health care coverage to obtain an abortion unless the pregnancy is life-threatening, and state agencies and employees are prohibited from providing abortion services. Private insurance is also banned from covering abortion in Kansas. 

HB 2028 also includes a nonseverability clause that applies to the abortion provision only, meaning that if the abortion provision is determined to be unconstitutional or invalid, the entire telemedicine act falls.

You can read the Center for Reproductive Rights' complaint here.

Leah Wiederhorn and Jessica Sklarsky from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed the suit, along with local counsel Robert Eye in Lawrence, Kans.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Center for Reproductive Rights: Kelly Krause; kkrause@reprorights.org; 917-637-3649 
Trust Women: Katie Knutter: kaknutter@itrustwomen.org; 580-229-6446