May 24, 2011 — Nebraska lawmakers on Monday gave final legislative approval to a bill (LB 521) that would bar the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion, AP/Connecticut Post reports. The bill passed 38-9 in its third vote and now advances to Gov. Dave Heineman, who is expected to sign it into law (Schulte, AP/Connecticut Post, 5/23).
The measure is aimed at blocking Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from replicating a program that uses telemedicine to provide medication abortion services in 16 Iowa clinics. Through the program, a woman seeking abortion care receives an ultrasound and examination from a nurse and then consults with a physician via the Internet on a private computer. If the physician determines that the patient is an appropriate candidate for medication abortion, he or she dispenses the medication remotely by pressing a button that opens a container with the drugs at the patient's location (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/11).
Supporters of the bill said it would protect women's health by ensuring that a physician is nearby. However, opponents noted that the drugs in the medication abortion regimen are taken over more than one day. They also argued that the bill could have a chilling effect on the growth of telemedicine in the state in general. In addition, the bill would force some women to travel long distances for abortion care, which potentially could be an unconstitutional burden (AP/Connecticut Post, 5/23).
Opinion Piece: Many Nebraskans Support Planned Parenthood
"Those who are anti-choice and anti-birth control can act, in their own lives, in accordance with their principles. But in the most fundamental understanding of religious freedom in this country, they do not have a mandate to impose their beliefs on hundreds of thousands of thoughtful Nebraska citizens who believe differently," write Karen Amen -- former board chair of Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Council Bluffs -- and Penny Berger -- former board chair of Planned Parenthood of Lincoln -- in a Lincoln Journal-Star opinion piece."
Responding to recent criticism of a new Planned Parenthood of the Heartland facility in Lincoln, Neb., Amen and Berger write that although they "firmly believe that every woman deserves the sacred right to choose when to become a mother and when to make a full commitment to being the best parent possible to her precious child," they "do not wish to impose our dearly held beliefs upon people who have a different opinion; we ask the same respect from them." According to Amen and Berger, "[I]n Nebraska, there are numerous persons of faith from a wide array of religious and secular traditions who support the right of a woman to choose when to become pregnant, when to bear a child and under what conditions." They add, "Beyond that, many religious and secular groups provide accurate and respectful sex education for their young people."
Amen and Berger note that opposition to the new Planned Parenthood facility focuses solely on abortion, yet abortion care is a small fraction of the health care services Planned Parenthood provides. Abortion services "are not performed for the organization's financial health but rather as a compassionate service to women desperate not to continue a pregnancy," they write.
Amen and Berger continue, "Planned Parenthood, to its eternal credit, for nearly 100 years has been helping women, men and their families address and receive services for their physical and emotional reproductive health." They conclude, "We proudly support its work and enthusiastically welcome Planned Parenthood of the Heartland to its new home in Lincoln" (Amen/Berger, Lincoln Journal Star, 5/22).