Arguments To Be Heard Wednesday in Lawsuit Over Iowa Telemedicine Abortion Ban

The fate of the state's successful telemedicine abortion program could be decided this week.

The decision stays an Iowa Board of Medicine rule that threatened to end access to medication abortion for rural patients. Computer keyboard and stethoscope via Shutterstock

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the State of Iowa will appear before a judge Wednesday as the legal battle over the state’s telemedicine abortion ban moves ahead and while the issue of just how far states can go in regulating the practice looms before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood want the court to overturn an August rule issued by the Iowa Board of Medicine, which declared doctors must be physically present when dispensing medication abortion pills to patients, the Des Moines Register reports. The rule was designed to shut down Planned Parenthood’s practice of allowing its doctors in Des Moines to visit with patients in rural clinics via video conference and then enter computer commands that dispense the pills to patients at those clinics. The practice is the first-of-its kind in the nation and seen by reproductive health advocates as revolutionizing access to early abortion care for patients in much of the state.

According to lawyers for Planned Parenthood, the medical board’s decision was politically motivated and an abuse of their discretion as a private agency. All ten members of the state board were appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, a zealous anti-abortion lawmaker who has made cutting off abortion access in the state a top priority for his administration.

But lawyers for the State of Iowa argue that there is no evidence the medical board’s decision was improperly motivated by politics and that contrary to Planned Parenthood’s assertions, the rule does not restrict abortion access. All Planned Parenthood needs to do to comply with the rule, the lawyers claim, is to place doctors at their ten satellite clinics where the video distribution currently takes place.

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, October 30. The rule is set to take effect November 6.