The GOP-dominated Montana house on Monday passed a ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion care.
HB 587, sponsored by Rep. Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), would prohibit a physician from providing abortion care, attempting to perform an abortion, or prescribing medication to induce an abortion without being in the physical presence of the patient.
The bill passed the house by a 53-46 margin, mostly along partisan lines, with four Republicans joining the Democrats in voting against the legislation.
Abortion providers use telemedicine to offer access to abortion care to women, many of them in rural areas, who do not live near a reproductive health-care provider. At a local health clinic, where the medication is dispensed, a patient will sit with a nurse while communicating with her doctor via video conferencing tools.
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Regier said during the floor debate that the bill’s intent is to ensure that abortion providers are able to determine the exact number of weeks of the pregnancy and if there are any complications from an ectopic pregnancy.
Twenty out of every 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Telemedicine abortion care “is not good for the woman,” Regier said, reported the Great Falls Tribune.
Research has shown that telemedicine abortion is safe and effective. Ibis Reproductive Health has concluded that “restricting telemedicine for medication abortion is not evidence based, and limits women’s access to high-quality abortion care, particularly in rural areas.”
Rep. Ellie Boldman Hill (D-Missoula) offered an amendment to “protect” men from vasectomy by telemedicine, which was voted down 55-45.
Hill said the intent of the bill is to make abortion care more difficult to access for women in rural areas. “We all know what this bill is about,” Hill said during the floor debate, reported USA Today. “Let’s take our ‘nanny state’ [and] make it an inability to get reproductive care equally.”
Telemedicine abortion care is only available in Iowa and Minnesota, and 17 states have passed laws banning the practice. Arkansas became this latest state to ban the practice when Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a telemed ban into law in February.
Anti-choice lawmakers around the country have introduced several bills over the past few years to end telemedicine abortion, many times at the urging of powerful national and state anti-choice groups.
Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, told the Flathead News that the bill would restrict abortion access in a state that has a large rural population.
“This bill is part of a broader effort to restrict or end access to safe, legal abortion in Montana. Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor,” Stahl said. “No matter where a woman lives she should be able to access safe, quality healthcare.”
HB 587 now moves to the state senate, where it will await a committee hearing before being brought to the floor for a vote. Republicans hold a 29-21 majority in the senate.