Planned Parenthood sues over Ohio telemedicine abortion ban

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Planned Parenthood has sued to block an Ohio law banning the use of telemedicine for medication abortions as unconstitutional, adding to a lengthening list of attempted restrictions on the procedure that are now tied up in court.

With the law set to take effect April 12, the organization asked for immediate relief from the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in a lawsuit filed late Thursday against the Ohio Department of Health, the state Medical Board and prosecutors in the state’s three largest counties.

The lawsuit marks the latest in a string of court challenges to additional abortion restrictions attempted by the Republicans who lead both chambers of the state Legislature.

Courts have blocked bans on dilation and evacuation, or D&E abortions; on abortions in cases where a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis is a factor; and on all abortions after detection of the first fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy before many women know they are pregnant.

A group of clinics and the ACLU of Ohio asked a judge March 9 to block a law that would require that fetal remains from surgical abortions be cremated or buried, arguing a lack of rules makes complying “impossible.” That law is set to take effect Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the telemedicine abortion ban in January. It would prohibit administration of mifepristone to medically induce an abortion via a telehealth appointment. Doctors who violated the law would face a fourth-degree felony charge on the first offense and a third-degree felony charge for subsequent violations.

Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said medication abortion is safe and effective and should be available remotely to Ohio women.

“Ohio is one of the most medically underserved states in the country, a problem particularly felt by Black communities, people of color, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in our state,” Harvey said in a statement. “Telemedicine is a key tool to address those disparities. When the Ohio Legislature and Governor DeWine enacted this unjust law, their intentions were clear — telemedicine is great, unless it is used in health care they don’t agree with.”

The use of telemedicine rose steeply when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telehealth visits increased 154% during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Supporters of the law argued that it is important for a doctor to be physically present when women take mifepristone for a chemical abortion to assure safety and to answer questions.

Opponents contended that women seeking abortions are already required to visit a clinic for counseling and for an ultrasound a day ahead of the procedure under current Ohio law. They said taking the abortion medication from home on the second day, while connected online with the a clinician, is safe and permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.