Judge Blocks Enforcement of Iowa Telemedicine Ban

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Judge Blocks Enforcement of Iowa Telemedicine Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The decision stays an Iowa Board of Medicine rule that threatened to end access to medication abortion for rural patients. The decision will allow Planned Parenthood to continue offering medication abortions at 15 rural clinics while the court challenge proceeds.

On Tuesday, Iowa Judge Karen Romano granted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request and stayed enforcement of the Iowa Board of Medicine’s rule banning the use of telemedicine for medication abortions.

The rule, which was approved by the Iowa Board of Medicine in August, requires in-person meetings between doctors and patients for the administration of medication abortions as well as direct after-care services. The rule was set to go into effect on November 6.

Planned Parenthood challenged the rule, arguing it was politically motivated because it directly targets its telemedicine practice, through which physicians at 15 rural clinics use a remote-controlled system to see patients and disperse abortion medication. The system was the first of its kind and has the potential to revolutionize abortion access in rural communities, which is why the practice has been a target of anti-choice lawmakers.

“The Iowa Board of Medicine’s rule puts the health and well-being of Iowa women in jeopardy,” said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Medical Director Jill Meadows in a statement. “It will not end abortion; it will only make it more challenging for a woman to have an abortion early in her pregnancy. It will delay access and force some women to obtain a surgical abortion later in pregnancy.”

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Tuesday’s decision is not a ruling on the merits of Planned Parenthood’s challenge. But it does allow the reproductive health-care provider to continue offering medication abortions at those 15 rural clinics while the court challenge proceeds, said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Jill June in a statement. “Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our patients,” June said. “Allowing the rule to be ineffective during litigation will ensure that Iowa women can continue to receive safe health care, without delay, from the provider they trust.”

The ruling is the latest in a string of high-profile court challenges stemming from state efforts to curb medication abortions, either incrementally, like Iowa’s telemedicine ban and Texas’ Food and Drug Administration protocol requirements, or entirely, like in Oklahoma, where the state’s highest court recently ruled that state’s law unconstitutional.

The case now proceeds to trial, where the court will hear evidence from attorneys for the Iowa Board of Medicine to support the state’s claim that the restriction is necessary to advance patient safety. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood say no such evidence exists.

A trial date has not yet been set.