Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (D.) vetoed a telemedicine bill designed to alleviate a backlog of medical services because it restricted access to at-home abortion.
The Pennsylvania state legislature passed the bill, which sought to promote the use of remote, virtual medicine in the state amid the coronavirus quarantine. The bill established guidelines for the provision of remote medical services, and also provided for reimbursements of insurance companies for remote services.
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Gov. Wolf, an outspoken abortion supporter, slammed the door shut on the bill because it did not apply to at-home abortions.
"Telemedicine is a valuable option in the delivery of health care services, especially during these trying times. However, it is crucially important to ensure this access is equitable and does not restrict medical treatment and services," Wolf said in a veto message released Wednesday. He claimed the bill "interferes with women's health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians."
The Pennsylvania state legislature passed the bill after adding an amendment that indirectly regulated abortion-inducing drugs. Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill because the new amendment banned the use of telemedicine for procedures that are not approved under the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). The abortion drug mifeprex has not been approved under REMS, which requires patients to be informed about a drug's side effects, along with the drug's registration with an FDA safety program.
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R.) said the bill was written to ensure the safety of patients and ease access to doctors without increasing travel or the use of personal protective equipment. He stressed that the bill did nothing to restrict abortion, since at-home abortions are already not allowed in the state. He accused the governor of rewarding his political allies at the expense of public health.
"In bending to his political interests, the Governor is denying access to medical care, increasing the cost of healthcare and decreasing the quality of life in our communities," Corman said in a statement. "This bill embraced federal guidelines for prescribing medications. The bill changed nothing about how healthcare was being offered through an in-person visit. To use that as an excuse to veto the bill is just a partisan falsehood."
Wolf has prioritized abortion throughout the pandemic. Despite the state government's ban on elective surgeries, Planned Parenthood Keystone, which operates in a significant portion of the state, said it would remain open "for abortion services only." It also put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment despite shortages in local hospitals.
Wolf's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Pro-life groups denounced the governor's decision to block the telemedicine legislation. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, pointed out the heightened risks of self-administered abortions, which do not apply to other medical services that can be provided online.
"While helpful in many situations, using telemedicine in the context of abortion eliminates critical aspects of medical oversight, for example the use of ultrasounds to rule out a deadly ectopic pregnancy," Mancini said. "That Governor Wolf, a close ally of our nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, would veto a bill for not including chemical abortion in telemedicine is not only a politically motivated decision, but it defies common sense. Sadly Pennsylvania residents will miss out on the positive aspects of virtual medicine because of it."
Wolf has received substantial support from abortion activists throughout his political career. Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC donated $26,500 to support Wolf's reelection in 2018, according to state campaign finance records. Planned Parenthood Votes also donated $5,000, while NARAL contributed $2,000 to Wolf in 2014.
Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general called on the FDA to loosen restrictions on abortion pills because of the coronavirus pandemic, arguing the restrictions are "onerous and medically unnecessary." The Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports pro-life female candidates for public office, said Democrats are attempting to exploit the pandemic and advance abortion interests over those of constituents in need of necessary medical services and prescriptions.
"The Pennsylvania legislature acted prudently to expand telemedicine while keeping in place regulations that protect women from the risks of dangerous abortion drugs," the Susan B. Anthony List told the Washington Free Beacon.