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Planned Parenthood Files Appeal Against Ruling in Case Challenging Iowa Telemedicine Abortion Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling limits what evidence the reproductive health-care provider could present in its lawsuit challenging the state's telemedicine abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director, Jill Meadows, have filed an appeal of a ruling limiting what evidence they could present in their lawsuit challenging an administrative rule that requires a physician to be physically present at the time an abortion-inducing drug is provided to a patient. The rule also requires an in-person physical examination before and a follow-up appointment after an abortion-inducing drug is provided.

Last August, the Iowa Board of Medicine voted to approve the rule that effectively banned telemedicine abortions in the state. The move directly targeted a very successful practice developed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland that allowed it to expand abortion access to rural parts of the state, where access to reproductive health care is limited. Planned Parenthood sued to block the rule, and in November an Iowa judge stayed enforcement of the rule while the lawsuit challenging it moved forward.

According to Planned Parenthood, the rule is unconstitutional in part because it was passed with an improper political purpose to directly target the group’s practice of telemedicine abortion. In support of that argument, Planned Parenthood had filed with the court an appendix detailing that the vast majority of medical professionals view telemedicine abortion to be a safe and effective means of delivering reproductive health care to patients. But, in a hearing in late March, the court struck much of that evidence from the record, including, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland claims, evidence that demonstrates collusion with the governor’s office by outside groups that drafted this rule, evidence of political or ideological motives of board members, and the board’s own practices and recommendations regarding telemedicine in contexts other than abortion.

The ruling held that only evidence that had been directly communicated to members of the Iowa Board of Medicine could be included in the appendix, a decision that Planned Parenthood argues unnecessarily narrowed the scope of the lawsuit. The excluded evidence, Planned Parenthood argues, substantially affects the group’s right to a meaningful judicial review and allows the agency to hide behind its staff by limiting the scope of evidence to only communication to the board members directly.

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“We believe the judge’s ruling was unnecessarily narrow under the specific circumstances of this case, and we are asking the appellate courts to clarify that this evidence should be admitted in this case,” explained Mike Falkstrom, general counsel for Planned Parenthood, in a statement following the appeal.

It’s not guaranteed that the appeals court will grant Planned Parenthood’s request. The lower court has scheduled a hearing on the merits of Planned Parenthood’s challenge to the telemedicine abortion ban for May 30. Planned Parenthood has asked that the hearing be stayed should the court take up its appeal on the evidentiary ruling.

CORRECTION: A version of this article incorrectly attributed the above statement to Jill Meadows, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. In fact, the statement was from Planned Parenthood attorney Mike Falkstrom. We regret the error.

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