Demand for telemedicine drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but conservative lawmakers have effectively banned remote access to abortion care in at least 19 states.

Abortion is incredibly safe, and so is telemedicine abortion. A federal judge in Indiana agreed.

A federal judge permanently struck down Indiana’s ban on telemedicine abortions last Tuesday, along with a host of other abortion restrictions in the state.

Indiana law prohibits telemedicine abortion and requires patients to be examined in person to receive abortion care. While Indiana officials claimed these laws are necessary for safety, Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana ruled that the state was unable to prove telemedicine abortion is unsafe.

“The State’s attempt to explain its basis for excluding the far-reaching benefits of telemedicine from [abortion] patients is feeble at best, especially given the widespread use of telemedicine throughout Indiana as well as the overall safety of medication abortions,” Barker wrote in a 158-page ruling.

Barker is entirely correct. Abortion is incredibly safe, and so is telemedicine abortion. (For more on this, check out our collection of reporting on medication abortion as the future of abortion access.) There is no good reason for lawmakers to restrict access to it, except as part of a ploy to decimate abortion access overall.

The ruling came in response to a 2018 lawsuit challenging dozens of Indiana abortion restrictions, filed on behalf of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center.

Along with the telemedicine ban and the in-person requirement, the court blocked several other restrictions:

  • a law preventing qualified nurse practitioners from providing medication abortions
  • a requirement that second trimester abortions be provided in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers
  • a forced counseling law that makes abortion patients sit through misleading information on “fetal pain” and other false claims
  • and several TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers).

At the same time, however, the court upheld a number of other abortion restrictions challenged in the lawsuit.

But the court’s decision to strike down the telemedicine ban comes at a critical time. While demand for telemedicine drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, conservative lawmakers have effectively banned remote access to abortion care in at least 18 states besides Indiana.

And the fight isn’t over in Indiana: Only a day after the ruling, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.