July 22, 2011 — Efforts to end the use of telemedicine in medication abortion care are the "latest example" of how abortion-rights opponents "seem willing to go to any length to restrict, discourage or hinder [abortion] -- even, in some cases, if it means risking a woman's health or violating core values of health care," medical ethicist Arthur Caplan -- director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania -- writes in a commentary for MSNBC. He notes that the House recently passed legislation defunding federal grants for the use of telemedicine in abortion care. In addition, at least five states have banned the use of telemedicine in abortion care.
A new study contradicts claims by abortion-rights opponents that telemedicine is an unsafe way to administer abortion care. The study found that telemedicine was equally effective and acceptable to women as a face-to-face office visit for medication abortion care. "No one has ever said a negative word about the merits of telemedicine until Planned Parenthood used the technology to remotely open a draw[er] that contained abortion drugs," Caplan continues, adding that telemedicine has been used for more than a decade for applications such as providing care for patients in rural areas or for troops in remote locations.
"The undermining of American medicine in the name of restricting abortion goes way past impugning telemedicine," Caplan writes. He notes that six states have passed so-called "fetal pain" laws that falsely purport that a fetus can feel pain, while other states have enacted "informed consent" measures that require women to take steps such as viewing ultrasounds, visiting crisis pregnancy centers or looking at pictures of fetuses before an abortion. "It is wrong to let a state legislator tell you who you need to talk to, what you must see or hear from your doctor, or to try and outline the 'risks' of any medical activity," he writes.
Caplan concludes that while many Americans believe that abortion is a "morally complex" issue, they should not "permit legislators to trample their fundamental rights; the autonomy of doctors, nurses and pharmacists; and key tools for providing care into the ground in the frenzy to restrict abortions" (Caplan, MSNBC, 7/20).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership