A Planned Parenthood affiliate announced Tuesday that it has started teleconferences with off-site doctors for patients seeking medication abortions at one of its Kansas clinics, a small step toward potentially much broader access in a state that has become a destination for the procedure after an August vote affirming abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Great Plains said it began offering telemedicine consultations Monday to patients visiting its Wichita clinic, per the AP. President and CEO Emily Wales said the immediate goal is to have more days that patients can go there to get medication abortions. She said her affiliate also hopes to offer the service to patients visiting its other two clinics on the Kansas side of the Kansas City area "in short order," and eventually to allow patients in doctors' offices and clinics across the state to teleconference with its physicians.
The move comes as Kansas abortion providers say they're seeing a flood of requests for appointments from women in states with more strenuous restrictions on abortion—particularly Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas voters in August decisively voted to retain state constitutional protections for abortion rights. The announcement also came less than a month after a state court judge blocked enforcement of Kansas' ban on telemedicine abortions. Eighteen states have bans on telemedicine abortions in place, according to national groups on both sides of the debate, including Arizona, Indiana, Nebraska, and North Carolina. Abortion opponents have long argued that telemedicine bans protect women's health by ensuring a physician is present to deal with major problems, though research has shown that abortion pills are safe.
Patients in states with more restrictive abortion laws still would have to travel to Kansas, as they do now. Doctors doing the teleconsulting also would have to be licensed to practice medicine in Kansas, as they must be now. For now, Planned Parenthood Great Plains is using existing staff and physicians to offer telemedicine abortion consultations to patients in Wichita. Wales said while the clinic sometimes has a doctor there three or four days a week, one day a week is typical. She noted that her affiliate is still deciding how quickly to expand telemedicine abortion appointments. Kansans for Life, the state's most politically influential anti-abortion group, responded to what it called Planned Parenthood's "dark announcement" by promising to consider "every possible course of action," including legislation.
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