Iowa Supreme Court Tosses Abortion Rule

     (CN) – The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a rule that would have barred doctors from using telemedicine to dispense abortion-inducing pills to patients of remote clinics around the state is unconstitutional.
     The June 19 ruling is a victory for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinics in Iowa that have been using videoconferencing to provide medication-induced, nonsurgical abortions since 2008.
     In 2013, the Iowa Board of Medicine passed a rule requiring doctors to perform examinations in person before giving women abortion-inducing drugs, and also to be physically present when the patients took the drugs.
     In defending the rule, the board argued that complications could arise from the use of the drug, and that dispensing and using them without a doctor being physically present put women at risk.
     That position was adopted by the Polk County, Iowa District Court, which upheld the new rule.
     But in a unanimous ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected that assertion, holding that in-person exams and monitoring “does not provide any measurable gain in patient safety,” and would instead, place an unconscionable burden on women living in rural areas seeking an abortion.
     “Clearly, those services would end and women in those communities would have to travel — in many cases hundreds of miles — to obtain abortions from Planned Parenthood if the rule took final effect,” stated Justice David Wiggins in a 31-page decision.
     The ruling relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which applied what is commonly known as the “undue burden” standard, to reproductive rights. The standard, first promulgated in the late 19th Century, roughly states that no legislative body can make a law that is too burdensome or restrictive of an individual’s fundamental rights.
     Chemical methods of abortions have been found to be safe and effective within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, the decision noted, and are accepted by both the FDA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
     The court took special note of the fact that telemedicine is widely used in Iowa for a variety of health and education services, particularly for Iowans living in rural communities.
     In fact, the Iowa Board of Medicine has called telemedicine “a useful tool” in expanding specialized services, improving outcomes, and lowering costs.
     The 2013 rule changes applied a different standard to drug-induced abortions than to other procedures, citing concerns about patient safety.
     The justices were skeptical of this rationale, however.
     “The weight of the record evidence indicates that a pelvic examination prior to administering the mifepristone does not provide any measurable gain in patient safety,” the decision states. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Board’s medical concerns about telemedicine are selectively limited to abortion.”
     Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that her organization applauded the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling.
     “Medical experts opposed this law because it harms women by blocking access to safe medical care. When it comes to health care, politics should never trump medicine,” the statement said.
     A spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who opposes abortion, said the governor was “extremely disappointed” in the decision.

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