Telemedicine—consulting with a physician over the phone or online—is an increasingly common option for everything from basic primary care and mental health services to even intensive care. Have a sore throat and don’t feel up to going to the doctor? Log on to your chosen telemedicine website, consult with a physician, and a prescription will be sent to your local pharmacy.
But despite the fact that telemedicine has been proven time and time again to be a safe and effective way for women facing an unwanted pregnancy to access a medication abortion, anti-choice Michigan lawmakers have voted to permanently enforce a law that bans doctors from helping them online.
The original ban on telemedicine abortion, which was passed in 2012, was designed to end on Dec. 31 of this year. Panicked at the thought of the incoming pro-choice Democratic administration, Republican state lawmakers have rushed to make an extension to the ban on one of the almost 400 bills they have sent to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk in the past 13 days.
According to Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, an abortion provider in Ann Arbor, by passing the extension “the state is patently and willfully ignoring conclusive scientific data and recommendations from leading organizations in an effort to restrict abortion care.”
Villavicencio explained that there is actually a “fairly rare” amount and level of high-quality safety data about telemedicine abortions. The National Institutes of Health; the American Medical Association; National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have all produced studies or commentaries supporting the practice of providing abortion care via telemedicine.
“In the state of Michigan, the only healthcare that is legally restricted in regards to telemedicine practice is abortion,” Villavicencio said in an email to Daily Kos, adding that the ban is “unscientific, unfair, and blatant government overreach.”
Using telemedicine to access abortion care would go a long way toward helping the 40 percent of Michigan women who, according to the Guttmacher Institute, live in counties with no abortion clinics whatsoever. Overall, according to Guttmacher’s online fact sheet about abortion access in Michigan, there were only 29 abortion-providing facilities in the state in 2014.
Nor is it necessarily easy for a person facing an unwanted pregnancy to go to the doctor to obtain mifepristone and misoprostol, the medications used to induce abortion during early pregnancy. While misoprostol can be purchased at a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription, the FDA has ruled that, despite an extensive safety record, mifepristone can’t be dispensed at pharmacies but must be distributed by clinics, hospitals, or medical offices.