Judge rules 'webcam' abortions can continue in Kansas despite new state law

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A judge in Kansas has ruled that a state law that purports to ban telemedicine abortions, also known by critics as “webcam abortions,” can not effectively bar abortion clinics from giving women drugs for a medical abortion without a doctor present.

On Monday, District Judge Franklin Theis ruled that a new law that was set to go in effect this month barring telemedicine abortions had no legal force and can not prevent clinics from giving patients abortion pills when there is no doctor on site to monitor the safety of the patient.

The law, which passed last year, was challenged in court by the clinic Trust Women Wichita, which was represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The clinic began offering telemedicine abortions, in which women take the abortion drugs and teleconference with a doctor from another location, in October. According to the Associated Press, the clinic began offering telemedicine abortions because its doctors live outside of Kansas and are only on site about two days each week.

Telemedicine abortion also makes it possible for the clinics to provide pills to women who live in rural Kansas and don’t have easy access to abortion clinics. They would also teleconference with doctors who may or may not even be in the same state.

The Center for Reproductive Rights argued that such a restriction against telemedicine abortions violated the state constitution because it creates an undue burden on women seeking abortions and also limits telemedicine abortions when the state is otherwise encouraging other forms of telemedicine.

However, critics say that such abortions lower the bar for safety and puts women in danger.

“Three years ago, a near unanimous bi-partisan majority of the Kansas legislature (39-0 in the Senate, 109-2 in the House) passed S Sub HB 2228, re-enforcing the state's mandate that a physician must be present (when abortion pills are given),” Kansas Right to Life argued in a Facebook post. “This ruling ignores that!”

One of the drugs used to commit medical abortions is RU-486 (Mifepristone), which can effectively kill an unborn baby at five to seven weeks of gestation “whose heart has already begun to beat.”

Kansas for Life, a pro-life organization with strong ties to the Republican-controlled state legislature, argues that the abortion pill often interferes with blood clotting and can present health complications.

Theis ruled that the 2018 law against telemedicine abortion “has no anchor for operation” because the law basically states that there is no legal statute authorizing “any abortion procedure via telemedicine.” With the way the law is written, Theis ruled, prosecutors do not have a way to bring a criminal case over a telemedicine abortion violation. 

"This judge has a long history of taking laws designed by the legislature to protect unborn babies and women and turning them into laws that instead protect the abortion industry," Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, told the Associated Press.

Supporters of the telemedicine abortion law point to a study conducted in California that found that less than one-third of 1 percent of medication abortions resulted in major complications.

In a report from earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation claimed that medication abortions have a .05 percent risk of major complications.

However, the pro-life advocacy group National Right to Life contends that RU-486 causes 2 percent of patients to hemorrhage while more than 1 out of 100 require hospitalization. The group asserts that the procedure can cause heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting and uterine contractions.

“That would be about 80 hemorrhages and about 40 hospitalized in Kansas last year,” the Kansas Right to Life Facebook post asserts. “And some people want them handed out free at college campuses!”

A former abortion clinic manager in rural Iowa who has voiced concern about “webcam abortions” told The Christian Post in November that employees in her clinic were given very minimal training before they were expected to supervise women undergoing telemedicine abortions. She said that it was her objection to “webcam abortions” that got her fired by Planned Parenthood.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 17 other states have bans on telemedicine abortions and require a physician to be present when the drugs are taken. The 2018 law struck down by Judge Theis marked the third time that legislators in the Sunflower State have tried to ban telemedicine abortions.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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