WICHITA, Kan. — A group that supports abortion rights has filed a lawsuit challenging a Kansas ban on telemedicine abortions, a practice that allows women in rural areas to get abortion pills without an in-office consultation in a city clinic.
The Center for Reproductive Rights contends that the anti-abortion section in the Kansas Telemedicine Act is unconstitutional because it treats women seeking abortions differently from other patients seeking medical care through telemedicine. It also argues that the provision creates an undue burden to abortion access.
If the ban takes effect Jan. 1 as scheduled, doctors would have to be physically present when a woman takes medication to end her pregnancy, the group contends.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed its lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Trust Women Wichita, which has operated a clinic offering reproductive health care, including abortions, since 2013.
"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," Julie Burkhart, chief executive officer of Trust Women, said in a news release. "Medication abortion is safe whether provided in person or by telemedicine."
The Kansas attorney general's office, which represents the state in lawsuits, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
The complaint, filed in Kansas District Court in Shawnee County, argues that 97 percent of Kansas counties in 2014 were without a single clinic that provides abortions, and that more than half of Kansas women live in those counties. The five clinics in Kansas that offer abortion services are all in Wichita or suburban Kansas City.
Trust Women recently began providing abortions via telemedicine to expand access to the clinic's services, according to the lawsuit. Before Trust Women introduced telemedicine, the clinic was able to provide abortion care only two days a week because its physicians had to travel to Wichita. Telemedicine allowed it to offer the service on additional weekdays and Saturdays.
The Kansas Telemedicine Act requires insurance companies in Kansas to cover health care services provided through telemedicine if insurance already covers the services during personal visits to a doctor. The law aims to improve access to health care in underserved communities and rural areas.
Abortion opponents insisted that the telemedicine bill include language forbidding abortion by telemedicine. Lawmakers then added a "non-severability" clause aimed at ensuring that the entire law is nullified if the abortion ban is struck down. The lawsuit argues that it's ultimately up to the courts, not the Legislature, to decide whether a section of the legislation can be severed.