A bill being reintroduced this year focuses on expanding telemedicine in Utah. But the legislation has family planning advocates worried because the proposed expansion would exclude medical abortions.
The bill titled Telehealth Amendments would expand reimbursements for telemedicine, the growing area of computer-assisted healthcare that helps doctors serve rural areas and hard-to-reach patients. It would increase insurance coverage for telemedicine but stops short of one type of procedure: medically-induced abortions.
The bill’s sponsor is Representative Ken Ivory.
"When a life is at stake, that is something that requires great circumspection and so we did not expand the telehealth coverage in that area, we expanded it in everything else," Ivory said.
The bill would provide coverage for abortions in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk, but otherwise, abortion-inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol would not be covered.
Critics of the bill said it would disproportionately affect women in rural parts of Utah where health coverage can already be sparse, and that such barriers could result in later stage abortions.
Marina Lowe is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. While they support the goal of expanding telemedicine, they oppose the exclusion of abortion coverage.
"These lines make a burden of a woman’s right to make use of telemedicine for legitimate and constitutionally protected healthcare reasons," Lowe said.
Representative Ivory introduced a similar bill in the 2016 legislative session, but its journey ended in the Senate.
Despite arguments on both sides, this year’s bill passed out of committee. It moves to the full House for consideration.