Last Wednesday, a district court judge in Kansas temporarily blocked a law that banned doctors in the state from prescribing abortion pills to patients using telemedicine. While the ruling is likely to be appealed, pro-choice advocates see the decision as a step forward in increasing access to abortion in a state where many women may live hours from the nearest clinic and where many abortion providers are inundated with out-of-state patients.
In 2019, Trust Women, a chain of abortion clinics that has a location in Wichita, filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against two Kansas laws that banned doctors in the state from prescribing abortion pills to be taken at home and requiring that patients take the drugs at a treatment location with the prescribing physician present. In its lawsuit, the clinic argued that the state laws—the one mentioned above and another that removed protections for telemedicine abortions from an existing telemedicine law—violated women's right to obtain an abortion guaranteed by the state constitution. (A ballot measure intended to remove that protection from the constitution was rejected by voters in August.)
In their lawsuit, Trust Women argue that medication abortion is safer for pregnant patients than taking "Tylenol, penicillin, or Viagra." Taking the drugs without physician supervision is low risk. The clinic's suit says that the success rate for medication abortion is slightly higher among telemedicine patients than in-person ones. Increasing access to medication for abortion also reduces more dangerous procedures. As Trust Women wrote in an appellant brief, "telemedicine expands abortion access earlier in pregnancy when it is safer, thereby furthering public health and reducing second-trimester abortions."
The Kansas District Court in Shawnee County originally sided with the state and against the plaintiffs. However, the clinic appealed two of the Court's three decisions in the case to the Kansas Court of Appeals, which sided with the clinic and remanded the case back to the Shawnee County District Court. Last Wednesday, the District Court, in compliance with the Appeals court's ruling, granted the Trust Women's request for an injunction against a state law that required doctors to be in the same room as a patient taking abortion pills and reinstated the claims against the lawsuit's defendants. While the decision leaves abortion-related sections of a state telemedicine law intact, it nonetheless secures a crucial victory for medication abortion access in the state.
"Expanding access to abortion care through telemedicine is a critical component of addressing the health care needs of our region, especially in the face of the manufactured health care crisis caused by abortion bans in Texas and Oklahoma, and backed by the disastrous decision by the Supreme Court in Dobbs," Trust Women co-executive director Rebecca Tong said in a statement. "Access to telemedicine services for Kansans will go a long way to easing the strain on our reproductive health care systems in the state."
While this case's journey through the legal system is likely far from over, for now, Kansas women can more easily exercise their state right to an abortion.