Iowa’s State Supreme Court has struck down a ban on telemedicine abortions, saying the prohibition is unconstitutional. It’s the first time in more than 40 years Iowa’s highest court has considered an abortion case. It could also have national implications: other states have considered setting up a similar system to serve abortion-seeking patients in rural areas.
The Des Moines Register reports that the State Supreme Court ruled Friday that the telemedicine procedure can be used, saying it’s the first time in more than four decades they’ve considered a measure having to do with abortion. Iowa established the telemedicine program in 2008: patients are treated by an in-person nurse, then do a consultation by video with a doctor, who then remotely unlocks a drawer containing the abortion medications mifepristone and misoprostol.
In 2013, Iowa’s Board of Medicine voted to ban the procedure, arguing it was unsafe. Planned Parenthood points out that that the board was appointed by the anti-abortion governor and included a Catholic priest and a doctor who likened using the abortion pill to “delivering a fetus,” which, no:
“How can any of us possibly find that a medical abortion performed over the internet is as safe as one provided by a physician in person?” asked Dr. Greg Hoversten of Iowa City, who is the board chairman. He said complications from the pills can be serious. “The woman essentially goes home and labors and delivers a fetus. It’s very bloody. It’s painful. There’s cramping, pelvic cramping.”
The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians found telemedicine abortions to be safe; so did a prior, less anti-abortion version of the Iowa Medical Board.
In a press release today, Planned Parenthood, which has nine Iowa clinics that can now legally perform telemedicine abortions again, called it “a big victory for Iowa women,” in the words of PPFA president Cecile Richards, who added, “Similar restrictions and bans on abortion are being pushed through in other states, and this ruling sends a strong and clear message to politicians across the country. Restrictions and bans on abortion are unconstitutional and deeply unpopular, and we will continue to fight them in every state in this country.”
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A telemedicine terminal with RU-486 in a drawer at the Planned Parenthood in Des Moines, Iowa. Image via AP.