Iowa Top Court Lets Doctors Dispense Abortion Pills Remotely

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Iowa doctors may dispense abortion-inducing drugs on video-conference calls, the state’s Supreme Court said in overturning a law banning the practice.

The ruling is the latest by a court to reject efforts in many states to place new limits on abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to revive a North Carolina statute requiring doctors to show patients ultrasounds before the procedure. In Washington, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that legislation banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy will get a vote in his chamber.

Iowa’s law took aim at “telemedicine abortions,” in which doctors prescribe the drugs Mifeprex and misoprostol to women pregnant for 63 days or less, after video-consultation and verification of their medical status. It required doctors to be present and perform a physical exam before the medicine was given.

The unanimous ruling Friday reversed last year’s lower-court decision that let the measure stand.

“It is not disputed the rule would have the effect of prohibiting telemedicine abortion in Iowa,” Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins wrote for the panel, which said the limitation violated the state and federal constitutions.

‘Undue Burden’

Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine, said his group will review the opinion when it meets next month. The rule was intended to address the unsafe practice of medicine, not to place “an undue burden on women who choose to terminate their pregnancies,” he said in a statement.

“Restrictions and bans on abortion are unconstitutional and deeply unpopular, and we will continue to fight them,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement. The group’s Iowa affiliate sued to block the rule in 2013 arguing the procedure was safe and that the law sought to make it more difficult for women to end a pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists applauded the ruling, saying telemedicine benefited women living in rural areas who might otherwise need to travel hundreds of miles to reach a facility.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court allowed a Texas law to be enforced that may all but eliminate abortion clinics in that state. In Congress, the Republican-led House of Representatives has already passed a 20-week measure similar to what will come before the Senate.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Heartland Inc. v. Iowa Board of Medicine, 14-1415, Iowa Supreme Court (Des Moines).

For more, read this QuickTake: The Vanishing U.S. Abortion Clinic

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