The Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, recently vetoed a telemedicine bill because it did not include telemedicine abortion.
Senate Bill 857, as the telemedicine bill is known, amends the “Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for telemedicine, authorizing the regulation of telemedicine by professional licensing boards and providing for insurance coverage of telemedicine.”
It’s a commonsense piece of legislation that helps define telemedicine and clarifies what insurance reimbursements will be available, which Gov. Wolf supports, but only if abortion remains part of the equation. Telemedicine allows individuals and families to access medical help electronically through either the phone or a video chat. It’s designed for nonemergency situations where a doctors office isn’t readily accessible, like if a family’s on vacation.
In a statement, Gov. Wolf said, “I recognize the importance of telemedicine and support actions to expand telemedicine access and use across the Commonwealth. Telemedicine is a valuable option in the delivery of health care services, especially during these trying times. However, it is crucially important to ensure this access is equitable and does not restrict medicine treatment and services…As amended, this bill interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians.”
During a crisis like COVID-19, where most hospitals and doctors’ offices are trying to conserve resources for those truly in need, vetoing a telemedicine bill over abortion doesn’t make much sense.
There is no reason why the politics over abortion should be a hinderance to a service that would help families access medical services over the phone.
There are many benefits to telemedicine, and its use has exploded exponentially since the coronavirus crisis began. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “(Telemedicine offers) a central strategy for health care surge control through ‘forward triage’—the sorting of patients before they arrive in the emergency department (ED). Direct-to-consumer (or on-demand) telemedicine, a 21st-century approach to forward triage that allows patients to be efficiently screened, is both patient-centered and conductive to self-quarantine, and it protects patients, clinicians, and the community from exposure (to COVID or any other disease).” For example, it allows for patients to contact a dedicated line of physicians after hours if their child is sick but not sick enough to require a hospital visit.
For many illnesses, there are a set of known symptoms that are fairly easy to diagnose. Abortion is not the same thing.
Telemedicine abortion still requires the woman to go to a doctor’s offices for a series of tests to ensure that she doesn’t have an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially fatal complication, and conduct other examinations like determining the gestational age of the preborn baby to ensure that the procedure is safe. If the doctor doesn’t do those tests, then the patient is at risk for an incomplete abortion, hemorrhaging, infection and other serious health complications.
There is a reason why the first half of the abortion process, conducted with the drug Mifepristone, has a Food and Drug Administration Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies, which are drugs that are highly dangerous and carefully controlled. Only a handful of the tens of thousands of drugs on the U.S. market have that distinction.
Hopefully, if the bill is reevaluated, the provision that bans abortion remains intact. Telemedicine is about helping families access care electronically in non-emergency situations, not an excuse to expand access to the abortion pill without oversight.