Abortion pill restrictions approved by Michigan House

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
High above the Lansing skyline, and pedestrians far below, workers begin erecting scaffolding as part of a multi-million dollar renovation project on the dome atop the Michigan Capitol.

Lansing — Michigan's Republican-led House approved early Thursday morning a bill that would permanently prohibit doctors from using an Internet web camera to prescribe medication to induce an abortion, setting it on a likely course for Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. 

During a marathon session that began at 10 a.m. Wednesday and continued through the night, the lower chamber voted 62-47 to extend a "telemedicine" ban first enacted as part of a 2012 GOP abortion law that was set to expire at the end of the year.

The temporary law signed by Snyder six years ago requires women to physically visit a doctor to obtain prescription pills to induce an abortion, which supporters say is a safety measure for medication that can have side effects.

“This bill maintains the status quo, maintains the ban on telemedicine abortion and is in keeping with current (Food and Drug Administration) requirements,” Genevieve Marnon of Right to Life said last week in committee testimony.

But critics argue technology has advanced and contend the regulation is designed to limit access to legal abortions, particularly for women who live in rural areas without a doctor nearby and who increasingly rely on Internet exams.

The FDA prohibits women from filling a prescription for mifepristone at a retail pharmacy as part of a “risk evaluation and mitigation strategy.” But groups like the American Medical Association have urged the federal agency to lift the restrictions.

"There is no medical or scientific reason to ban prescription-induced abortion,” said Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills.  “Let’s not allow government to enter the doctor’s office, but honor limited government that doesn’t control my vagina. When will we finally trust women?”

Right to Life of Michigan pushed the measure, which won approval two weeks ago in the Republican-led Senate.

“Telemedicine abortions leave women with no doctor available in the event she suffers a serious side effect, an incomplete abortion or has severe bleeding,” Marnon said in committee. “With telemedicine, the doctor could be in another state or another country.”

Planned Parenthood opposed the bill. So did the Michigan State Medical Society, which argued physicians who increasingly use technology to make remote prescriptions should be able to do so for any medication.

“In this case, absent the ability to prescribe remotely, a woman would have to travel to a clinic, hospital or office to take the medication,” society president Betty Chu said in written testimony. “The unfortunate reality is this isn’t feasible in many remote areas of the state, hence the impetus for and expansion of telemedicine.”

There is no obstetrician-gynecologist in nearly one third of the state’s 83 counties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of  Michigan, whose national affiliate has challenged prescription restrictions in other states.

Nineteen other states ban remote prescriptions for abortion pills, according to Right to Life of Michigan. The 2012 law was set to expire Dec. 31. Pro-choice Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer is set to take office Jan. 1.