Iowa Supreme Court Rules Telemedicine Abortion Ban Unconstitutional

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last week that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland may keep using a telemedicine system, the first of its kind in the nation, to dispense abortion-inducing pills.

Since 2008, more than 7,200 Iowa women have used the system, which allows Planned Parenthood doctors in Des Moines or Iowa City to interact via video with patients in outlying clinics. After deciding that a medically induced abortion is the best option for the patient, the doctor dispenses the medication to the patient, who takes the first of two pills at her local clinic while the doctor is watching on video and then takes the second pill at home 24 to 48 hours later.

Much to the chagrin of Iowa’s anti-abortion Gov. Terry Branstad (R), whose self-appointed state regulators ruled in 2013 that the system should be banned due to alleged safety concerns, the state Supreme Court justices ruled 6-0 that the Iowa Board of Medicine’s rule imposed an unconstitutional “undue burden” on women’s right to abortion. Planned Parenthood also noted that under a previous governor, the medical board looked at the telemedicine abortion system and found no problems.

Fifteen states have adopted bans on telemedicine abortion since 2010, and today it is only available in Iowa and Minnesota.

The decision will allow Iowa to continue providing women in rural areas with safe access to abortion services and hopefully set a precedent for other states whose abortion providers are considering setting up similar systems of their own.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia user Iqkotze licensed under Creative Commons 2.0




Julia Robins is a Ms. editorial intern and a graduate of William & Mary. Follow Julia on Twitter @julia_robins.