Montana House Moves to Preemptively Ban Telemedical Abortion, But There is Good News

By Maggie Moran, Executive Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Montana

Maggie Moran, Executive Director, NARAL Pro-Choice MontanaIn Montana, we are two-thirds of the way through our 64th Legislature and there is no doubt that 2015 is a tough year for reproductive rights. From bans on telemedicine for early abortion care to fetal anesthesia requirements for later term abortions, politicians seem bent on making abortion, at any stage, as difficult to access as possible in our state. However, upon some much-needed reflection, my optimism allows me to see bright spots to appreciate.

Montana does not, yet, provide early abortion care via telemedicine (through which a woman, in the presence of a licensed health care practitioner, consults with a physician through telecommunications technology). That didn’t stop the House from passing a bill to ban the option. Politics trumped science in a committee stacked along party lines. On the House floor, there were several common sense Republican detractors after a passionate and lively debate. Sadly, we needed more members of the GOP to kill the bill, so it now moves on to the Senate.

Gaining Republican allies in this partisan Legislature is nothing to scoff at. There were other gains as well. With a fiercely talented group of activists in the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition, we crafted a strong campaign against the bill. It has allowed us to make our reasonable argument, not only to the legislative body, but also to Montanans across the state. Ours was an undeniably intelligent hearing and a memorable House floor debate, which even included an amendment proposed by a friendly legislator, Rep. Ellie Hill, to “protect” men by banning vasectomies via telemedicine. “Let’s acknowledge that in Montana, we treat men and women equally… let’s acknowledge that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Hill said. Her amendment ultimately failed.

We were also honored to gain support from influential and respected national organizations, like the National Partnership for Women & Families and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. These organizations provided expert testimony to the committee which enabled us to have an excellent hearing and also equipped our pro-choice legislators with sound, reasonable arguments for the committee discussion and floor debate.

This process made it embarrassingly clear that the proponents of banning so-called “webcam abortions” had absolutely no science or medical rationale to back up their claims and, worse, had no understanding of how telemedicine even works. While the sponsor was forced to answer with an unmistakable “no” when asked if he had any peer-reviewed research at all to support his claims that telemedicine in the context of medical abortion poses a unique risk to patients, we spoke with authority and offered hard evidence to the contrary.

So, even though we do not have telemedical abortion services — yet — in Montana, and the House passed a bill to preemptively ban the practice, in a strange and ironic sense I think we are closer now to making it a reality for our state.

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