- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Republican lawmaker in Montana wants to require that doctors be present when women take abortion-inducing medication.

Rep. Keith Regier of Kalispell is sponsoring the bill, which would ban and make it a crime for medical practitioners to administer pregnancy-ending medication through telemedicine. “If you care about patient care, you’d want to have a practitioner there … instead of prescribing a chemical abortion over the airwaves,” Regier said.

He also said he wants to be proactive with the measure, which has passed in some form in about 16 states. Telemedicine abortion services are not currently available in Montana.

Under House Bill 587, a doctor or other practitioner licensed to perform abortions or prescribe, administer or dispense a drug or device that causes abortion could be fined and/or jailed if they are not physically present when providing these services. While the first offense is a misdemeanor, the second would be classified as a felony with a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $1,000.

Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, is opposed to the bill, which she said is actually about restricting abortions in a large state where telemedicine could increase patient access. “The reality is a woman is not in the same room with a doctor when an abortion takes place_for over a decade now,” she said.

Abortions done through medication typically involve a visit with a practitioner during which he or she administers the first of two doses of medication to induce an abortion. The woman then takes the second dose within about 48 hours at home, Stahl said, adding studies have shown complications associated with the procedure are rare.

“Legislators should leave it to medical professionals to determine whether this is a good thing to do through telemedicine,” she said.

In 2013, 1,842 induced abortions were performed in Montana, according to data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Of those, 1,622 were performed on Montana residents. Since they started compiling data in 1975, the number has been as high as 4,175 induced abortions in 1982.

House Bill 587 is scheduled to have its first hearing Friday in the House Judiciary Committee.

An anti-abortion measure that pushes for amending the state constitution to define human life as beginning at conception has passed a House committee. Two-thirds of lawmakers would have to support House Bill 425 for it to be placed on the November 2016 ballot. Three previous efforts have failed in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 349 would require those offering health insurance in the state to sell a coverage plan that does not include abortion services. That bill passed the Senate and is headed to the House for consideration.

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