South Dakota committee votes to block telemedicine abortions


The South Dakota Legislature’s Interim Rules Review Committee has sided with Gov. Kristi Noem’s executive order and voted to block telemedicine abortions.

The order requires women who want to end their pregnancy via chemical abortion to take the medications mifepristone and misoprostol under observation in a health care clinic during two separate visits instead of at home.

The required in-person visits was a main point of debate during the rules review interim committee meeting, drawing doctors on both sides of the issue to make their case.

“The reckless push of de-medicalization of the process of chemical abortion has resulted in essentially medical abandonment of our pregnant patients during a procedure which is fraught with immediate and long-term complications,” said Dr. Donna Harrison, CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “These complications can include massive hemorrhage, tissue left inside the woman, infection and failed abortion. The risk of these complications increases with increasing age of the pregnancy.”

Harrison said the required in-office visits were important for a number of reasons, including determining the exact gestational age of the patient so the woman can be given her specific risks.

“Without an ultrasound, a woman cannot know how far along she is and, thus, she cannot be given full informed consent,” Harrison said. “Because a woman’s risk for complications from a chemical abortion dramatically increases as the gestational age of the pregnancy increases.”

Dr. Sarah Traxler, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in her experience, ultrasounds are already done and called the abortion medication “substantially” safer than over the counter medications such as penicillin and Tylenol.

“There’s simply no medical value in requiring a patient to return to the health center to obtain the second drug in the protocol misoprostol as opposed to the patient receiving the misoprostol together with the first medication mifepristone,” Traxler said. “Simply put, the only care that would be provided at this third in-person visit would be handing the patient the misoprostol and that care can be, and has been, easily done at a prior visit.”

Traxler said the requirement of multiple in-person visits would increase women’s risks during the chemical abortion process.

“By making it harder for patients to access the second medication, this rule may actually prevent them from taking the second medication, thereby exposing them to increased risks,” Traxler said. “Quite honestly, this is irresponsible gambling with women’s health and safety.”

Noem said in a press release she plans to ask the Legislature to make the protocols permanent.

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