Bill would prohibit Internet consultation for abortion doctors

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Planned Parenthood Louisiana State Director Melissa Flournoy told legislators Wednesday that her organization is not in opposition to a bill banning telemedicine abortions.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Planned Parenthood Louisiana State Director Melissa Flournoy told legislators Wednesday that her organization is not in opposition to a bill banning telemedicine abortions.

A state Senate committee advanced legislation Wednesday aimed at preventing telemedicine abortions in Louisiana.

At issue in Senate Bill 90 by state Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, are pregnancies that are terminated after a remote consultation over the Internet with a doctor.

Mills wants the physician to be in the room when the abortion drugs are administered.

“Many times we’ve looked at expanding telemedicine,” Mills said. “There are certain prohibited acts. I just wanted to add this to those prohibited acts.”

Debate about the legislation in the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare included an explanation of the webcam service Skype and images of an 8-week-old fetus.

Anti-abortion activists also leveled charges that Planned Parenthood intends to start performing abortions in Louisiana.

“We’re going to keep it to the bill,” committee chairman David Heitmeier said at one point.

Outside the meeting, Planned Parenthood leadership said abortions will be performed at a new complex in New Orleans, marking the first time the organization has terminated pregnancies in Louisiana.

SB90 is intended to be a preventive measure since Mills said he is unaware of any telemedicine abortions being performed in Louisiana.

Testimony on the bill skidded off topic onto Planned Parenthood’s fundraising campaign for a new health center in New Orleans.

The nonprofit organization, which provides reproductive health and child health services, has become a hot political issue as anti-abortion activists try to stifle its funding.

The organization provides abortion services in many locations although not currently in Louisiana.

“Planned Parenthood will be doing abortions (in Louisiana) in the future,” Dorinda Bordlee, vice president of the Bioethics Defense Fund, told legislators Wednesday in reference to the New Orleans building project.

The Bioethics Defense Fund is an anti-abortion group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana state director of Planned Parenthood, said the organization is conducting a capital campaign to raise funds for a new health center in New Orleans. She said her organization has never provided abortions in its 30-year history in Louisiana.

“It is a health care facility,” she said.

Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, steered the debate back to the bill.

After the meeting, Flournoy said the health center would provide abortions, which are legal in Louisiana.

SB90 delves into an abortion delivery method that other states also are moving to ban.

Bordlee said Planned Parenthood and other groups administer abortions through Skype without a doctor present in the room with the patient.

She said the doctor clicks his mouse after consulting with the patient over the Internet and a drawer containing the abortion drugs opens.

Mills said Mifeprex, or RU486, starves the fetus while Misoprostol starts contractions.

The problem, Bordlee said, is the patient might experience a negative reaction to the drugs. “There’s no physician she’s met with. She’s on her own,” she said.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, voiced concerns about rape victims not being able to get access to emergency contraception, commonly known as “morning-after” pills, if the legislation becomes law.

“I’m pro-life, but when someone’s horribly violated ... I want to make sure we’re not making it even worse,” Claitor said.

Mills said “morning-after” pills would not be affected by the legislation.