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By Catholic News Agency, Jan. 2, 2019
Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka. Credit: Shutterstock
Topeka, Kansas, Jan 2, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA) – A district judge in Kansas has ruled that the state cannot prohibit “telemedicine” abortions and blocked a law banning the practice that was due to go into effect this month.
District Judge Franklin Theis ruled Dec. 30 that the new law was legally unenforceable and could not go into effect. Theis had earlier described the law as an “air ball.” He also ruled that other state laws that contain provisions against telemedicine abortions were to be put on hold. Those laws are being challenged in a different case that has not yet been decided.
A telemedicine abortion is when a woman consults a doctor via a video chat rather than an in-person visit. The doctor then writes a prescription for abortion inducing drugs which the woman can fill locally, taking the drugs at her own home or another location.
Theis has previously ruled against similar bans on telemedicine abortion in Kansas. In his decision, he said that the 2018 law lacks a basis for prosecutors to bring charges against someone for performing a telemedicine abortion. He ruled that the law “has no anchor for operation.”
In comments reported by the Kansas City Star, the executive director of Kansans for Life, Mary Kay Culp, called Theis’ ruling “infuriating,” and said the judge had a long record of “taking laws designed by the legislature to protect unborn babies and women and turning them into laws that instead protect the abortion industry.”
The pro-abortion legal advocacy organization Center For Reproductive Rights filed suit against the law in November, 2018. The suit was filed on behalf of Trust Women Wichita, which operates an abortion facility in Wichita. Trust Women had started offering telemedicine abortions the previous month, due to a shortage of abortionists for in-clinic procedures.
Trust Women also said that they hoped that they would be able to provide abortions via telemedicine to women living in the state’s rural areas. There are no abortion clinics outside of Kansas’ major cities.
In 2017, there were nearly 4,000 medication abortions performed in Kansas. This is more than half of the total number of abortions in the state. It is unknown how many of these were performed by telemedicine.
The measure was the third attempt by Kansas lawmakers to restrict telemedicine abortions. In 2011, a ban on telemedicine abortions was passed as part of a larger group of regulations for abortion clinics in the state. That law was challenged by abortion clinics, and the regulations were blocked in another ruling by Judge Theis.
Four years later, in 2015, Kansas’ legislators again passed a bill banning telemedicine abortions. Theis later ruled that this new law was also covered under his previous injunction, which he described as a “safe harbor” for the state’s abortion clinics.
Seventeen states have banned the practice of telemedicine abortion.