Idaho votes to amend legislation that would ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs

By Heather Mack
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The Idaho State Senate has voted to amend legislation that banned the use of telemedicine to prescribe medications that induce abortion, a move that comes just two months following the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood condemning the prohibition.

House Bill 250 was passed 28-7, repealing a pair of telemedicine bills that worked together to outline overall telehealth policies in Idaho, as well as the very specific provision that the technology not be used to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs.

The first, House Bill 154, required a doctor to be present when administering the abortion-inducing medication, while the second – the Idaho Telehealth Access Act – was a larger telemedicine bill to expand a variety of services and contained the line: “No drug may be prescribed through telehealth services for the purpose of causing an abortion.” It was the only such restrictive language in the entire bill, which outlined acceptable telemedicine practice regarding prescriptions, diagnoses, consultation and other services across Idaho.

That prompted Planned Parenthood to file a lawsuit back in 2015, similar to those they had previously filed and won in Iowa, and what may have happened in Utah this year had they not changed an earlier telemedicine bill that had a similar ban.

“There is no medical justification for carving out this one exclusion for prescribing medicine to patients in Idaho,” Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho Legislative Director and Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “The Constitution does not allow the legislature to pass laws that burden women’s access to abortion when those laws do not advance the health and safety of women.”

In the Idaho settlement, the state Legislature was given until the end of 2017 to remove the one-line ban from the Telehealth Access Act law and repeal the law requiring the physical presence of doctors in the room when prescribing the abortion-inducing medication, according to the Idaho Statesman.  If not, US District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill would have been able to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable, and Planned Parenthood could have moved forward with their lawsuit.  

But the passage of HB 250 did not make everyone happy, including Republican Senator Dan Foreman.

"I understand where we’re at, we’re looking down the barrel of a lawsuit we may likely lose. So the question is what do we do with HB 250,” Foreman told the Idaho Statesman. “The way I see it, we have two choices. We can pass the bill, avoid the legal expenses [or] … the other option is to vote down the bill and take a stand on principle. … This issue is not about health care, it’s about legislative authority.”