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Idaho GOP’s Telemedicine Abortion Ban Challenged in Court

Nicole Knight

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court challenges Republican-imposed restrictions on prescribing abortion-inducing pills via telemedicine.

Planned Parenthood is suing the state of Idaho over new laws that introduce roadblocks to abortion access by barring providers from prescribing abortion inducing pills via telemedicine.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of two state laws passed by Idaho’s Republican-majority legislature and signed by Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in April.

The Telehealth Access Act authorizes providers to prescribe medications during a video conference with a patient, but carves out an exception for the pills taken to induce an abortion—what’s known as a medication abortion. A second law, HB 154, amended the Idaho constitution to require a physician to examine a patient in person before a medication abortion, effectively restricting abortion access in a state in which many counties are rural.

Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, called the bills bad health policy.

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“Women in Idaho deserve the right to have access to the safest, highest quality health care—these misguided laws do just the opposite by creating unnecessary hurdles to safe and legal abortion that are not grounded in science, but instead rooted in politics,” Charbonneau said in a statement.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, told Rewire on Tuesday that the office does not comment on pending litigation.

Eighteen states require a physician to be physically present when a patient takes abortion-inducing medication, according to the Guttmacher Institute, restrictions that make it impossible to prescribe the pills through telemedicine. Research suggests that it’s equally safe for patients to take the two pills used in a medication abortion at home or in a clinic—and women may prefer the comfort of home.

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a telemedicine ban in June that had required doctors to see abortion patients in person, following a suit by Planned Parenthood. The Iowa Board of Health in 2010 determined that Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine practice was safe and consistent with prevailing standards of care.

“There is no medical justification for carving out this one exclusion for prescribing medicine to patients in Idaho,” Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director and public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement. “The constitution does not allow the legislature to pass laws that burden women’s access to abortion when those laws do not advance the health and safety of women.”

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