HB 400, a bill meant to ban the use of telemedicine for medication abortions by requiring that physicians be physically present with patients to administer the drugs, has now passed the Missouri senate, and will head to the governor’s desk for his signature. However, the final wording on the bill may make the law somewhat less restrictive than originally feared, as the physician’s presence is only required for the initial dose, not for the follow-up medication to be taken 24 to 48 hours after.
Previously, the bill stated, “When RU-486 (mifepristone) or any drug or chemical is used for the purpose of inducing an abortion, the drug or chemical shall be administered in the same room and in the physical presence of the physician who prescribed, dispensed, or otherwise provided the drug or chemical to the patient.” Some critics worried that the “any drug or chemical” language could refer also to the misoprostol patients take as well, and could force them to return to the clinic for what would, including mandatory counseling, amount to a third appointment in a matter of days, plus a fourth appointment two weeks later. The final version of the bill, however, was amended to refer to “the initial dose of the drug or chemical,” making it clear that a second appointment for misoprostol is not being mandated.
Bill opponents asked for the amendment to ensure that patients would not need to make additional, unnecessary trips to a clinic during the abortion process. Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told the River Front Times that one major concern with the return trip for misoprostal is that patients would be forced to be out of their homes or wherever they have chosen to be at the exact time that they may in fact be completing their abortions. “We want women … in the privacy of their home,” said Gianino.
The bill now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who in the past has allowed bills that restrict abortion to become law without either a signature or a veto. Nixon did veto a piece of legislation that would have allowed employers to prohibit insurance plans from offering contraception coverage if the business owner morally objects to it, a veto that was then overridden by the state legislature. That law is currently blocked by federal courts.