More abortion drug restrictions endorsed by Missouri House

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | 8:00 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Physicians prescribing abortion-inducing drugs could face greater requirements than those performing surgical abortions under legislation that won preliminary approval Tuesday in the state House.

Missouri law already requires a woman to wait 24 hours after consulting a physician or qualified professional before having an abortion. The bill endorsed by the House would require a doctor — not a nurse or other medical professional — to perform a physical examination of the woman at least 24 hours before prescribing the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486.

The bill would force a change at Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri, which currently rely on staff other than physicians to perform the initial consultation and do not conduct a physical examination, said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Michelle Trupiano. She called the legislation "extremely onerous."

In Iowa, Planned Parenthood has been using a telemedicine system in which a physician and patient confer by video conference, and the physician presses a button that remotely dispenses an abortion-inducing drug for the patient, Trupiano said. The doctor then watches by video conference as the patient takes the drug. She said there are no plans to institute such a system at Planned Parenthood's clinics in Missouri.

Some supporters of the legislation said not only would it place further restrictions on abortions but also would make it safer for women to take RU-486.

"This is a drug that's very, very risky to the mom," said Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council.

Representatives gave the legislation first-round approval by 116-34 vote. A second vote is needed to send it to the Senate.

The legislation would require the physician administering RU-486 to have clinical privileges at a nearby hospital, as well as privileges to intervene with surgery if necessary at a hospital or the abortion clinic where the drug was given. It also would require physicians who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to carry an additional medical malpractice insurance policy of at least $1 million per occurrence and $3 million annually for injury or death of a child born alive after an attempted abortion.

House debate on the legislation followed the traditional arguments between anti-abortion lawmakers and abortion-rights advocates.

"I believe this is a child that is being killed," said Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, the sponsor of the legislation. "Although we can't straight up outlaw it, I'd like it to be regulated and limited."

Opponents claimed Koenig was espousing a double standard by opposing government intervention in the workplace — a position he's taken on unrelated bills — while expanding it in the case of pregnant woman.

"This bill is nothing more than the long arm of the legislature sticking its hand in private medical, ethical and religious decisions," said Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-St. Louis County.

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