Planned Parenthood Telemed Abortion Program May Continue During Court Case, Judge Rules

November 6, 2013 — An Iowa judge on Tuesday granted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland a temporary stay against a state ban on administering medication abortion via telemedicine, AP/ABC News reports. The ruling means the state cannot enforce the policy, which was scheduled to take effect on Wednesday, while PPH contests the restriction in court (Rodriguez, AP/ABC News, 11/6).

The case involves a decision by the Iowa Board of Medicine to prohibit PPH from using its first-in-the-nation system for remotely dispensing medication abortion drugs to patients at outlying clinics who consult via videoconference with a physician in Des Moines. Staff members at the patients' location perform other necessary services and schedule follow-up visits (Leys, Des Moines Register, 11/5).

Background on Telemedicine Ban

The Iowa Board of Medicine in 2010 ruled that doctors at PPH could continue to dispense medication abortion via its telemedicine program, but Gov. Terry Brandstad (R) subsequently replaced all of the board members. The new appointees proposed and voted to move forward with the ban after abortion-rights opponents filed a petition asking the board to end the telemedicine program.

PPH on Sept. 30 filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court, asking the judge to block the rule from taking effect. The group argued that the rule was politically motivated and "was 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."

In October, the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee voted 5-4 against delaying the ban, with all the of board's Republican members voting to move forward with the rule (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/8).

Tuesday's Ruling

In Tuesday's ruling, Polk County District Judge Karen Romano said that "[t]here is simply no evidence the court can rely on to come to the conclusion that the telemedicine abortion procedures, which have been offered for five years without issue, do not 'protect the health and safety of patients'" (Des Moines Register, 11/5). She added that enforcing the ban could interfere with a woman's ability to have a medication abortion and possibly require her to undergo a surgical abortion.

Romano did not rule on the merits of the case (AP/ABC News, 11/6). However, she did note in her ruling that "it is peculiar, as petitioners point out, that the board would mandate this [telemedicine restriction] for abortion services and not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa.'"

Ban's Supporters, Opponents React

PPH President Jill June said, "It's evident the Iowa Board of Medicine did not base their ruling on the health and safety of Iowa women," given that there "was no medical evidence or information presented to the board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system." June added that the organization is "confident the court will see this unjust rule will only hurt Iowa women by delaying access to health care."

Iowa Board of Medicine's Executive Director Mark Bowden said the ruling "perpetuates what the board believes is inadequate health care and treatment for Iowans who seek medical abortions." He said the board believes that physicians "must establish an appropriate physician-patient relationship prior to the provision of a medical abortion," including an "in-person medical interview and physical examination" (Des Moines Register, 11/5).