Judge upholds ban on telemedicine abortions

A ban on the practice of telemedicine abortions in Iowa, approved by the state's board of medicine last summer, has been upheld by a district judge.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Polk County District Judge Jeffrey Farrell said the board unquestionably had the authority to establish standards for the procedure.

"The board's adoption of the rule is one that is precisely within the expertise of the board of medicine and not one to be decided by the court," Farrell said. "The board includes seven physicians who are educated, trained and experienced in the practice of medicine. ... The board's decision is supported by its reasoning that a physician needs to conduct a physical exam, which the board generally considers to be 'the cornerstone of good medical care.'"

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which had sued the board for its decision, called the ruling a "dangerous trend" and plans to file an appeal with the state's supreme court.

"Using any means necessary, politicians are imposing restrictions on abortion that will take safe and legal abortion away from women living in parts of the country where access to healthcare is already very limited," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement.

According to a Des Moines Register article from March, on the medical board vote, the state's board of medicine determined in 2010 that the practice of telemedicine abortions--in which a physician who meets virtually with a patient at a clinic via closed-circuit video virtually dispenses pills via a computer-controlled drawer--was safe. Gov. Terry Branstad, who took office in January 2011, then replaced the entire board, which reversed that decision.

The new board did not examine the use of such systems for "other medical functions," according to the Register.

In February, the state's House of Representatives voted 55-42 to approve a ban on telemedicine abortions.

To learn more:
- here's the ruling
- read the Planned Parenthood statement
- check out the Des Moines Register article