December 2, 2015 — Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against Idaho, arguing that two state laws (HB 154, HB 189) restricting telemedicine abortion access are unconstitutional, Reuters reports (Zuckerman, Reuters, 12/1).
None of the three clinics that offer abortion services in Idaho use telemedicine for medication abortions.
Gov. C.L. Otter (R) signed HB 154 into law in April. Under the law, providers must personally conduct a physical exam before administering medication abortion drugs, be capable of providing surgical intervention and make "reasonable efforts" to schedule a follow-up appointment, among other requirements. The law permits patients to conduct follow-up visits with a different provider at the same location.
Further, the law allows a patient, her spouse or, if the patient is deceased, her parents to seek damages against the provider for alleged violations of the law. In addition, county prosecutors can request an injunction against the provider (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).
The other law, which specifies telemedicine practices that are legal in the state, prohibits physicians from prescribing abortion medication via telemedicine. According to the AP/Idaho Statesman, the state does not require physicians to be physically present for other types of medical procedures.
Planned Parenthood previously sued Iowa over a similar restriction banning the use of telemedicine in abortion services, and the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in June. The AP/Statesman reports that Iowa now is one of two states where telemedicine abortion is available.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states mandate that medication abortion be administered in person and 38 states, including Idaho, allow only licensed physicians to administer medication abortion (Kruesi, AP/Idaho Statesman, 12/1).
Details of Lawsuit
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, asks a federal judge to deem the Idaho laws unconstitutional and permanently block their enforcement (Reuters, 12/1).
In the lawsuit, PPGNHI argues that the measures violate equal protection rights under the Constitution because they force women who live in remote parts of the state to travel farther to access abortion care and to seek out abortion care later in their pregnancies (Reuters, 12/1).
"Rather than promoting women's health, the ban on telemedicine harms women because but for the ban, [PPGNHI] would provide safe, early medication abortions to more women," the lawsuit states, adding, "The ban, therefore, will force some women to seek abortions later in pregnancy, will force others to travel further to access abortion which will result in delay and increased medical risk."
Further, the lawsuit states, "There is nothing in the record developed by the [state] legislature that demonstrates how the 'in person' exam requirement for a medication abortion furthers any interest in protecting the health of women ... Nor is there anything in the records showing that the legislature considered the adverse health impact of limiting access to abortion."
A spokesperson for Wasden said the defendants were reviewing the lawsuit but could not comment on pending litigation (AP/Idaho Statesman, 12/1).