August 20, 2014 — An Iowa judge on Tuesday ruled that the state Board of Medicine has the authority to ban the administration of medication abortion drugs via a telemedicine system, Bloomberg reports.
Polk County Judge Jeffrey Farrell's decision upholds a board rule that requires a physician to be present and perform a physical examination before administering the medication (Harris, Bloomberg, 8/19). The judge's ruling is expected to take effect in 30 days (Leys, Des Moines Register, 8/19).
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland plans to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court (Bloomberg, 8/19).
Although the Iowa Board of Medicine in 2010 ruled that doctors at PPH could continue to dispense medication abortion drugs via its telemedicine system, Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) later replaced all of the board members, who then approved rules barring PPH from administering medication abortions through the system.
PPH sued, and a judge last November issued a temporary stay against the ban (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/18). PPH argued in the lawsuit that the board's rule was politically motivated and "promulgated solely for the purpose of preventing access to early abortion, and for no legitimate purpose relating to the health and well-being of Iowa women" (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/6/13).
In his ruling, Farrell wrote, "There is no question that the board has the power to establish standards of practice for the medical profession."
He added that the board held public hearings, accepted written comments and, therefore, met the requirements for setting a rule. He said that banning the telemedicine system would not cause "undue hardship" for women who would need to travel to obtain the drugs if it were not in place.
However, Farrell also said that the board "invited scrutiny" through some of its actions, including by acting on the petition for rulemaking just three days after it was received and declining requests from physicians' groups to take more time to consider the matter.
Supporters, Opponents React
PPH Chief Operating Officer Penny Dickey said in a statement, "While the board of medicine claims it is acting to protect women's safety and health, its true purpose is to prevent women from receiving an abortion if and when they need one." She added that PPH will "continue to fight for evidence-based medicine and a woman's right to make her personal health care decisions."
Iowa Board of Medicine Executive Director Mark Bowden said the ruling showed the board acted appropriately, "carefully studied the issue and provided ample opportunity for public comment." He added, "The board considers a thorough medical history and physical examination to be the cornerstone of good medical care" (Des Moines Register, 8/19).