Telehealth Bill Advances Despite Dem Warnings of Lawsuit from Abortion Clause

Last year, Representative Ken Ivory (Republican – West Jordan) introduced HB 340 – Telehealth Revisions, which failed survive the final hours of the 2016 session. That piece of legislation focused how to update Utah code to better allow for telehealth (remote health services delivered through webcam or other electronic device) related services. The legislation would have proven particularly useful for those living in rural Utah, who do not have easy access to healthcare in general, and may opt not to take a 30,40, or 50-mile round trip just to be diagnosed with a sinus infection. for  reintroducing

Ivory is back this year with HB 154 – Telehealth Revisions, which is a near carbon copy of 2016’s legislation, just with an added note about insurers having to disclose if they offer the service or not – otherwise, it is exactly the same as what passed out of the house last year.

And it is that point that had Democrats particularly on edge. As Ivory pointed out while presenting the bill on the floor, the legislation also specifically includes the fact that a patient can not receive a prescription for abortion-inducing drugs through telehealth services.

Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – Millcreek) was quick to offer an amendment on the floor to strike the lines in the bill related to this restriction.

As Arent explained,”This bill is basically a good bill. It is about Telehealth. That is what the bill should be about. But the bill should not be about scope of practice for a doctor and what can be prescribed; that is a completely different issue. The committee did not go through and decide all the different things that could or could not be prescribed through telehealth – what procedures could be discussed.”

“Why should we limit women in rural counties – because that is where telehealth is used – to not be able to use a procedure that is legal for women in urban counties?” Arent noted, adding that “Other than these lines is a wonderful bill.”

Representative Lynn Hemingway (Democrat – Salt Lake City) told the body that during testimony in committee on the bill in committee that they heard from “a group of gynecologists who objected to this language in the bill, and we also heard testimony about a case in Idaho where this kind of legislation was passed – it has gone to the district court, and it has been halted by the district court…we understand that there is going to be legislation to do away with it.” During summation, Hemingway would reiterate his overall support for the bill if this provision was not included.

Arent would reemphasize the potential legal battle that could ensue of HB 154 became law, reminding the body that “we know we will spend how much money on litigation if this passes. I’d hate to have the telehealth bill tied up in litigation because it is a good bill and it needs to move forward. But there will be litigation from the analysis I have seen, and we are likely to lose.”

Arent’s amendment would ultimately be rejected through a voice vote, however this wouldn’t deter Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck (Democrat – Salt Lake City) from telling the House floor that their decision not to amend the bill means that the legislation has  “[added] a component that will now,  possibly enjoin [the rest of the new telehealth law] and then keep those services from being provided to our rural communities, and I am not talking about the conditions that caused concern, I am talking about everything else in this bill.”

“Make no doubt it, this bill will be challenged…and then the good work that can be done…will not be able to move forward.”

Representative Stewart Barlow (Republican – Fruit Heights), a doctor himself, provided glib counterpoints to the Democrat’s collective concerns

“Do you foresee this bill as being a cure-all for all problems that can be cured over a video medium?” Barlow asked of Ivory, who noted that no, the bill does not pretend to do such things, it just provides additional services and addresses reimbursement issue.

Barlow, of course knowing this, used Ivory’s response to add that “obviously this isn’t a tool to guide someone through brain surgery; if someone is in diabetic ketoacidosis, is dying, this is not a replacement for proper care in that case – so I would like to encourage support of this bill…it is not designed to cure every medical problem that is out there – but it is a tool. [Women in rural Utah] still have services available in their community that they can use [to receive abortion medication] if the need is there.”

Ivory, clearly irritated at the objections noted that the legal concerns that have arisen out of Idaho were only held in the 9th Circut court and that 20 states have a ban similar to what he is proposing in their telehealth laws, adding that ” find that tragic and sad. When you think about the process that we are not extending telehealth to…we are not extending it to a process [where] a woman would ingest a bill…[that shuts] down the unborn child’s life support system, providing nutrition, hydration, and starving the child to death.”

But Ivory’s odd and graphic break did not end there, he would add that “there is a second pill some days later, and the woman may cramp and bleed; and the camps may be so powerful, and the bleeding so profuse that it comes out in big clots and gushes. If this doesn’t work, the corpse of the emaciated child will be expelled through from the uterus…”

At this point, Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City) attempted to stop Ivory’s unorthodox rant by asking how such discussion was germane to the bill.

Ivory responded by saying that such a restriction is important for the health of women in rural Utah. After repeating that if the provision is removed, abortion-inducing drugs could be given without face-to-face interaction that is capable of causing “big clots and gushing blood” Ivory would add that many times the child does not pass.”

“in fact, many have died from this procedure. And some argue that this is a bad bill because we in the state of Utah don’t want to allow that practice.”

The FDA does report that some deaths have occurred from the most common abortion-inducing drug, RU-486, though the frequency may not be as common as Ivory implied.

Ivory would close by informing the body that no other state outside of Idaho has been sued over such abortion-related provisions, and it appears that the House agreed that the legislation should continue forward, passing it 56-15. Representatives Scott Chew (Jensen), Becky Edwards (North Salt Lake), and Bruce Cuttler (Murray) were the only Republicans voting against the bill. It is now off to the Senate.

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