As if living in a remote area miles from a large city wasn’t enough of a barrier, legislators in the state of Montana are seeking to make abortion even less accessible. In March, the Montana House of Representatives voted in favor of a ban on telemedicine abortions. The bill is currently in the Montana Senate and a vote is expected soon. “We all know what this bill is about,” Representative Elli Hill commented, explaining that although proposed under the guise of health and safety, the ban actually seeks to make abortion less accessible to women in remote areas of the state.
Medication abortions administered through telemedicine are as safe and effective as in-person abortions. With telemedicine, a doctor provides a medication abortion to a patient at a local clinic via a live video conference. Telemedicine increases access to abortion, permitting some women to have an abortion earlier in their pregnancy. This actually increases safety and reduces costs. Although abortion is an extremely safe procedure, the risk of complications and the costs of the procedure do increase with each week of pregnancy.
Currently, only 11% of Montana state counties have an abortion provider; this forces many women to travel long distances just to reach one of the state’s few abortion clinics. The costs associated with such lengthy and unnecessary travel include: arranging for and receiving time off work, often without pay, paying for childcare, finding reliable transportation, and arranging overnight accommodations as necessary. These costs are particularly devastating to low-income women who already face significant barriers accessing care. Although telemedicine for medication abortion is not currently used in Montana, if the ban were to pass, it would prevent providers from implementing a telemedicine program in the future. This is the opposite of what should be happening. Montana lawmakers should be trying to improve health care access, not make it harder to get care.
It’s the Montana Senate’s turn for consideration of the ban. If the bill were to pass the Senate, tens of thousands of women living in remote areas of Montana could be denied safe and effective access to abortion. Montana legislators must be reminded: a woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions.