abortion pill bottles in drawer

Court upholds Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine abortion program in Iowa

In a blow to a popular anti-choice restriction, Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s attempt to ban a Planned Parenthood program administering abortion via telemedicine is unconstitutional. 

The justices ruled 6-0 that the rule violated women’s rights under the state and federal constitutions. The court noted that telemedicine is being used to provide many other types of health care. But the Iowa Board of Medicine only focused on telemedicine’s use for abortion when it imposed a requirement that doctors perform an in-person physical exam on patients, the justices wrote. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the board’s medical concerns about telemedicine are selectively limited to abortion.”

The Supreme Court determined the medical board’s rule imposed an unconstitutional “undue burden” on women’s right to abortion. It noted that national standards do not require a physician to perform a physical examination on a woman before providing a medication abortion. The court also noted that other staff members in the outlying Planned Parenthood clinics draw blood, take medical histories and perform sonograms on the patients, which are transmitted to the physicians. The justices wrote that they didn’t see proof that an in-person exam by a doctor would “provide any measurable gain in patient safety.”

Planned Parenthood’s program offering telemedicine abortions in Iowa has been extensively studied. Not only is it just as safe and effective as dispensing the abortion pill in-person but patients report being very satisfied with the experience. Recognizing that an option that allows doctors to better provide abortions to folks who live in rural areas far from abortion clinics (which are ever dwindling in number) would seriously undermine their efforts to chip away at access, the anti-choice movement quickly launched a counter attack.

Lawmakers in more than a dozen states have preemptively banned the practice even though Iowa and Minnesota are currently the only two states where it is even an option. But hopefully, with this court’s ruling, that may soon change.

Header image credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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