Pregnant Idahoans in remote areas can now access the pills that induce abortion even when their doctors are hundreds of miles away, under a legal settlement announced Monday.
The settlement blocks two Idaho laws passed in 2015 that barred doctors from administering medication abortion via telemedicine, a technology connecting doctors and patients through video conferencing. The settlement, which arose out of a court challenge, suggests a legal path for reproductive rights advocates in the 19 states with similar bans on the books.
“Women in Idaho deserve the right to have access to the safest, highest quality health care,” said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands (PPGNHI), which sued to block the laws. “These misguided laws do just the opposite by creating unnecessary hurdles to safe and legal abortion that are not grounded in science, but instead rooted in politics.”
The two 2015 laws were passed by the state’s Republican-majority legislature. The anti-choice measures were also championed by Democrats like former Idaho House Minority Leader John Ruche (D-Lewiston), as the Associated Press reported. The laws barred providers from prescribing via a video consultation the pills to induce abortion, and mandated in-person doctor visits for those seeking medication abortion in the largely rural state.
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Planned Parenthood sued in U.S. District Court, which agreed to temporarily block the law.
“After witnesses from both sides testified extensively in pre-trial depositions, PPGNHI and the state agreed that this law did not benefit women’s health—rather it made it harder for women to access safe medical care,” Hannah Brass Greer, chief legal counsel at PPGNHI, said in a statement.
Under the settlement, the state legislature can repeal the laws in 2017. Otherwise, the state attorney general and Planned Parenthood will ask the court to declare the laws unconstitutional, permanently blocking their enforcement.
Nineteen states ban the use of telemedicine for medication abortion, and Idaho is the second state to have its law fall to a constitutional challenge. Iowa’s law is permanently blocked by court order.
Research indicates that it’s safe for patients to take abortion-inducing pills at home or in a clinic. Evidence-based medical groups oppose restrictions on access. And in in a 2014 opinion, the Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocated for the repeal of laws like telemedicine bans.