Iowa Supreme Court Reverses State Ban on ‘Webcam Abortions’

By Emily Richards | June 19, 2015 | 5:22 PM EDT


Abortion-inducing drugs are prescribed remotely at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinics in Iowa. (AP photo)

( The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously voted to overturn a state ban on “webcam abortions,” in which off-site physicians distribute abortion-inducing drug without physically examining the patients themselves,

The Friday ruling means that controversial telemedicine-abortions are now legal in the state. According to the National Right to Life, the practice is currently banned in more than 13 other states.

As previously reported, the Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8 to 2 in favor of banning “webcam abortions” in 2013, citing them as a health risk.

“The practices used by physicians who prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs using telemedicine are inconsistent with the protocols approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the manufacturer of the drugs,” the board said in a statement.

The board explained that in “telemedicine settings” the patient is physically examined not by “the physician who prescribes and administers the abortion-inducing drugs, but is delegated to non-physician persons who do not have appropriate training to confirm or discover contraindications or to perform an ultrasound to determine the age and location of the embryo.”

Although “medication abortions” have been deemed a safer alternative to surgical abortions, a 2014 study by the University of California-San Francisco found that they had a higher complication rate when compared to first-trimester surgical abortions.  

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) - the first abortion provider to install a webcam abortion system - appealed the Iowa Board of Medicine’s decision, but a district judge upheld the ban.

However, the justices on the state Supreme Court concluded that "the Board’s rule violates the controlling 'undue burden' test announced by the United States Supreme Court as the federal constitutional test." 

Their reversal of the ban will have major implications in Iowa. PPH, which has four facilities that provide surgical abortions, already offers webcam abortions in ten other locations throughout Iowa. And with the ban lifted, the practice is likely to spread.

PPH's president praised the court’s decision. “We applaud the court for ruling to protect women’s access to safe, legal abortion,” said Suzanna de Baca.

However, not everyone agreed with the reversal of the ban. Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine, said in a statement that the ban was adopted because of what the "board saw as the unsafe practice of medicine, not to place an undue burden on women who choose to terminate their pregnancies."

"It's extremely disappointing that our judiciary would strike down a rule that ensured women received the standard of care they deserved before undergoing a significant medical procedure,” said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, who supported the ban.

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