Missouri doctors will need to be in the room for the initial dose of a drug used in medication-induced abortions under legislation that will become law without Gov. Jay Nixon's signature.
The legislation effectively prohibits the use of telemedicine for medication abortions, and with the requirement, Missouri will be joining nearly a quarter of U.S. states that require the doctors' physical presence with the patient. Nixon announced Friday that he wouldn't sign the legislation, even if he wasn't vetoing it, which will allow it to become law on Aug. 28.
Supporters of the measure say their goal is to protect women's health and safety, but opponents contend the measure is aimed at restricting access to abortion services in the state.
Ten states, including Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota, require that the prescribing clinician be physically present, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which is a research group that supports abortion rights. The institute says Wisconsin and North Dakota also have a similar requirement but that enforcement has been put on hold because of litigation.
In Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has made telemedicine an option since 2008. Currently it is available at 16 health centers throughout that state, and telemedicine has been used for more than 3,000 patients.
Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has not used telemedicine but said it has examined the possibility.
In Missouri, women seeking a medication abortion take one drug at the clinic and are given a dose of another medication to be taken at home, 24 to 48 hours later. Patients return for a follow-up visit about two weeks later. The process is an option early in a pregnancy.
Missouri's legislation requires the doctor dispensing or prescribing the initial drug to be present. The physician or someone acting on the doctor's behalf also would need to make reasonable efforts to ensure patients return for the follow-up visit.