West Jordan Republican Rep. Ken Ivory wants to improve and expand telemedicine services in Utah. Telemedicine refers to doctors’ visits done via video conference or through other online technologies - and has been heralded as a way for rural communities to access quality healthcare.
But in addition to updating physician reimbursement models, Ivory's House Bill 154 includes four lines of text that would prohibit the prescription through telemedicine of abortion-inducing medications.
That restriction drew questions from the two Democrats on the committee.
Millcreek Rep. Patrice Arent pushed to eliminate the lines pertaining to abortion and said the House Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee, wasn't the right venue for a discussion of women’s health.
"I actually question why this bill is in this committee.," Arent said. "It’s a health bill. Yes, it involves telehealth, but under that analysis all the health bills could be over here because we would be talking about technology in all of them. All the hospitals I know have computers, for example."
In a back-and-forth exchange over the measure, Millcreek democrat Rep. Lynn Hemingway and Rep. Ivory clashed over the four lines of text in question:
"Abortion’s not against the law," Hemingway said.
"It’s not," Ivory said, "and yet we have a number of conditions and restrictions for safety and health which is the jurisdiction of the state, and so an abortion being something that terminates a life and to do that simply without ever seeing the patient, without having contact with the patient, as a matter of state policy we’re putting in code that we don’t think that’s appropriate.
"Do you think that’s fair to the patient who can’t get here?" Hemingway said.
Yeah, I think here’s plenty of opportunities," Ivory said. "If you have to have an abortion you have to see a doctor, right?"
Critics of Ivory's measure, including Marina Lowe of the ACLU of Utah said the telemedicine abortion ban would impact women’s constitutional right to safe and legal abortions.
"For states with rural populations such as Utah, a telemedicine ban such as included in HB154 will disproportionately impact rural women, who will be forced to travel longer distances for care and may potentially push them to seek abortions at later stages of pregnancy," Lowe said.
In the end, despite the opposition from Democrats, the bill passed the committee on a 9-2 vote. It now advances to the House Floor.