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State reporting on abortions could expand to track telemedicine use

By Tory Cooney
Andrea Ledger, right, executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, testifies before the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee April 6 in opposition to a bill sponsored by Rep. Abigail Whelan, left, that would modify abortion data required to be reported by physicians or facilities. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Annual state reports on induced abortions already include a lot of information – where the procedures take place and what kind of procedures are used – but not how many abortions are performed through telemedicine.

“Information on abortion is important for policy-making purposes … and right now there is an incomplete picture,” Rep. Abigail Whelan (R-Ramsey) told the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee during an informational hearing Thursday.

HF2573, sponsored by Whelan, is also included in the most recent engrossment of the House omnibus health and human services bill. It has no Senate companion.

Opponents say the legislation would inappropriately single out abortions for additional reporting requirements and pose privacy concerns, though Whelan stressed that existing statute prevents the commissioner of health from releasing information that could be used to identify patients or providers.

Nonsurgical abortions are performed early in a pregnancy through drugs given to the woman by a physician. These procedures can be performed either in person at a clinic or remotely, with the physician and patient in different medical facilities, Whelan said.

The bill would require providers to make a distinction between the two and report the codes of both facilities when the patient’s location differs from her doctor’s. It would also appropriate $71,000 to update the abortion data reporting system.

Andrea Ledger, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, called the additional reporting requirements “unnecessary,” as non-surgical abortions are very safe, whether provided through telemedicine or not. They would also “(lay) the groundwork to create additional barriers,” she said.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL- Brooklyn Center) said the reporting requirements unfairly target a specific abortion service and are inconsistent with reporting requirements for other telemedicine procedures.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) questioned the security of the data and argued that Republican concern over privacy issues varies between policies, like abortion reporting and including background checks for people seeking to purchase firearms.

“Because of the politics of this issue, folks could come after these people,” Lesch said. “That’s a legitimate concern of mine … the long-term security of the data should be of paramount importance.”

Carol Hajicek, a research analysis specialist at the Health Department, testified that there have been no data breaches regarding state-collected information on induced abortions since data collection began in 1998.

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