Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has followed through on their threat to take the new state telemed abortion ban to court, demanding a judicial review of the Board of Health decision to end the program despite no reports of any complications from Iowa doctors or patients.
The process to put the program — which allowed patients wanting an abortion to speak with a doctor via video conference after an initial consultation and ultrasound, then take the first dose of a medication abortion in the doctor’s video presence — under the review of a medical board whose members had all been appointed by the state’s anti-abortion governor was fast tracked over the summer and resulted in a 8 to 2 decision to no longer allow abortions without a doctor physically present.
Planned Parenthood is challenging the new rule, calling it a politically motivated restriction on abortion access. The rule would eliminate abortion access at 15 clinics in the state, leaving it with just 5 providers and greatly increasing financial impact on those in more rural communities.
Proponents of the telemed abortion ban included Operation Rescue, Americans United for Life, the local Catholic Church and a variety of anti-choice activists in the state. Americans United for Life has been key in pushing model legislation in other states that banned telemed abortion before states consider it as an option. AUL claims such bans are necessary to stop the “abortion industry” from preying on women.
“The abortion industry has been pushing dangerous life-ending drugs with minimal medical involvement in order to maximize high profits. But in Iowa, medical professionals stood up for commonsense against a brazen and reckless industry,” said AUL President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest after the board hearing. ”Given the life and death issues at stake, AUL was proud to testify in favor of their efforts.”
Of the 1.52 million patients who took RU-486 between 2000 and 2011, there were 2207 “adverse effects” reported. Of those, only 612 required hospitalization. Just 14 patients died.
“It’s evident that this ruling was not based on the health and safety of women in our state — it was based on politics. There was no medical evidence or information presented to the Board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system,” said Jill June, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO via statement.
June argues that the challenge was instead meant to further complicate the attempts of pregnant people in rural areas, especially those who are poor and have less resources, forcing them to give up on obtaining an abortion all together or pushing their abortions to later in the pregnancy when a medication abortion will no longer be an option.
The organization’s medical staff agrees. “This rule by the Iowa Board of Medicine puts the health and well-being of Iowa women in jeopardy and impedes my ability to offer safe health care in rural communities throughout this state,” said Jill Meadows, MD, the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the plaintiff in the suit. “Medication abortion is a very safe way to end a pregnancy before nine weeks. While the number of abortions in Iowa has not increased since we implemented our telemedicine program, the number of women accessing abortion before 14 weeks in pregnancy has.”
“This rule is not good medical practice and will put my patients and Iowa women at increased risk,” added Meadows.
Unless the courts intervene, the ban will go into effect on November 6th. If that happens, the groundbreaking program will be over, and telemed abortion will be almost non-existent in the U.S. Only Minnesota, who has one clinic in Rochester offering the service, will provide abortions via video conference.
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