Doctors in Missouri would need to be in the room for the initial dose of the drug used in medical abortions under a measure given final legislative approval Monday.
Supporters said the requirement would help to protect women's health and safety. But several critics said medical abortions are safe and that the legislation seems to be more of an effort aimed at restricting availability of abortion services.
Women seeking a medical abortion currently take a drug at the clinic. Women are given a dose of another medication to take at home, 24 to 48 hours later. Patients return for a follow-up visit about two weeks later. Under the legislation, the physician prescribing or dispensing an abortion-inducing drug would need to be present for the initial dose. The doctor or someone acting on his or her behalf would need to make a reasonable effort to ensure the woman returns for a follow-up visit, unless there is confirmation the pregnancy has been terminated and the patient's medical condition has been assessed by a licensed doctor prior to discharge.
Sam Lee, of Campaign Life Missouri, said the legislation would ensure that abortions cannot begin to be performed in the state via “telemedicine,” with a doctor prescribing treatment from a remote location.
“We think it's important that she visit the physician and be physically examined by the physician to make sure that there would be no complications if she was given these drugs,” he said.
On Monday, the House voted 115-39 to give the measure final approval and send it to Gov. Jay Nixon. The legislation passed the Senate last week on a vote of 23-7, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.
Sponsoring Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said there have been instances of complications after taking the abortion-inducting drug. Democratic critics said the legislation would interfere with women's relationships with their doctors.
Paula Gianino, who is the CEO of Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis region and southwest Missouri, said the legislation creates barriers. She said the measure could block technological innovation and that the Legislature wrongly is stepping in to set new standards for medical care. Gianino said the legislation does not come from concern about existing medical care or patient issues and that the current process is based upon clinical research into what is most effective and safe.
Gianino said about 1 in 5 patients seen by the clinic seeking an abortion travel at least 100 miles.
“Those who are supporting this bill want to talk about this as a telemedicine bill. Really what it's intended to do is put more obstacles in front of woman who are seeking medication abortions,” she said.