A Kansas judge on Wednesday blocked a 2011 state law that barred doctors from prescribing abortion pills via telemedicine.
Judge Teresa L. Watson reinstated a temporary injunction to prohibit enforcement of the law, which is at the center of a lawsuit brought in 2019 by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a Wichita abortion clinic. The law required abortion-inducing drugs to be given to patients in the same room as the doctor who prescribed the medication, effectively banning telemedicine abortion services.
“This decision will further open up abortion care in Kansas at a time it’s urgently needed. In this post-Roe world, telemedicine can make the difference in being able to receive abortion care or not.” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement on Wednesday following the release of the court injunction.
For now, physicians physically present at clinics can provide care for patients located anywhere within Kansas, but not beyond its borders. A patient from another state may still see a doctor at a Kansas clinic if they go to the clinic in person.
Existing restrictions, such as a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors, will still apply.
“Today’s decision paves the way for Kansas abortion clinics to expand services to women in remote, underserved areas of Kansas. We will continue to fight telemedicine bans in states across the U.S. since it is a pivotal tool for the future of abortion care.” Northup added.
Medication abortion, commonly known as abortion pills, is the use of two FDA-approved drugs that induce abortion, either in combination or alone: mifepristone and misoprostol. Before the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, this method accounted for more than half of all abortions in the United States.
Wednesday’s ruling comes just months after voters in Kansas rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state legislature more power to restrict or ban abortion. Kansas was the first state to vote on abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June.
Abortion rights supporters also gained major victories in this month’s midterm elections. Kentucky and Montana voters rejected anti-abortion measures. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont supported measures to enshrine reproductive rights in their state constitutions.
However, the battle over abortion drugs has only grown more heated in post-Roe America. A conservative group sued the FDA in federal court in Texas to revoke the decadesold approval of mifepristone used in abortion pills. Additionally, a large anti-abortion group petitioned the FDA to require drug providers to be responsible for disposal of fetal remains and mifepristone contaminants as medical waste.
Meanwhile, nine Democratic lawmakers have urged the FDA to take steps to protect and expand access to medication abortion.
State-level anti-abortion groups have been lobbying for more legislation to ban or restrict medication abortion, such as requiring an in-person medical screening for any medication abortions, allowing family members to sue medication providers, and attempting to shutdown nonprofit organizations that help women obtain and safely use the drugs.
Nearly 18 states have laws that effectively prohibit the use of telehealth for medication abortion, including those that require providers to be present in the same room as the patient or that outright prohibit the obtaining of the drugs through telemedicine. This number includes some states with abortion bans on the books, which are interpreted as restrictions on both medication and surgical abortions.