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Iowa abortion ban temporarily halted

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 10:50 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 11:07 a.m. CDT

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A ruling to ban telemedicine abortions in Iowa was halted Tuesday after an Iowa judge ordered a temporary stay on the decision.

Iowa Board of Medicine voted Aug. 30 to set rules for telemedicine abortion, five years after Iowa became the first state in the nation to offer the program.

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano ordered the stay on the decision, which would have gone into effect Wednesday.

Temporary stay

According to a Des Moines Register story, Romano “expressed sympathy for Planned Parenthood’s argument that the medical board’s rule singled out the private agency’s video system, which has similarities to other health care providers’ systems.”

The ban focuses around a technology, which was first used in Iowa, that allows women in rural areas of the state, such as Creston, to receive medication for an abortion without having to drive to a clinic in a more populated area.

Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8-2 to require abortion patients to meet with a doctor in person before being provided abortion pills, and to schedule an in-person follow-up visit.

“With respect to the lack of an in-person meeting, it is peculiar, as petitioners point out, that the board would mandate this for abortion services and not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa,” Romano wrote in the temporary stay. “There 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.’”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President Jill June agreed with Romano’s decision.

“There was no medical evidence or information presented to the board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system,” June said. “We are confident the court will see this unjust rule will only hurt Iowa women by delaying access to health care.”


However, Iowa Board of Medicine members still stand by their decision.

“The court’s decision to stay implementation of the rule perpetuates what the board believes is inadequate health care and treatment for Iowans who seek medical abortions,” said Iowa Board of Medicine’s Executive Director Mark Bowden in an email to the Des Moines Register.

Iowa Board of Medicine accepted a petition in June that recommended banning the telemedicine abortion system used by Planned Parenthood, then held a hearing in August before the vote Aug. 30.

The pro-life group Iowa Right to Life released a statement after Romano stayed the ban, stating “it would be correct to say that we believe in the sanctity of life of the unborn, but we are equally concerned for the safety of born women.”

Iowa Right to Life advocate Pat Pokorny of Creston said in a previous interview with Creston News Advertiser she agreed with the medical board’s decision.

“We’re just praying for the babies, and the mothers, and those that work in the clinics that they will realize just how precious life is,” Pokorney said.

Telemedical abortion

The telemedical abortion system is seldom used in Creston, averaging up to six uses per year, said Planned Parenthood administrators.

According to Planned Parenthood administrators, the low statistics could be caused by people comfortable with traveling to Des Moines for health care, or wanting anonymity. Prices for abortions are the same at Creston and Des Moines clinics.

A telemedical abortion starts with a visit between patient and doctor on a video call. When the patient is comfortable, the doctor pushes a button and a drawer opens on the patient’s end of the call.

In the drawer is the abortion medication mifepristone. The doctor watches the patient take the pill.

After taking the drug, the patient takes up to three days of misoprostol, which is the drug that actually makes the abortion occur.

A surgical abortion is the opposite of a medical abortion and requires a procedure. Where a medical abortion cannot take place after nine weeks, a surgical abortion can occur during various stages of pregnancy.

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