Court strikes down Iowa webcam abortion ban

by Daniel James Devine
Posted 6/19/15, 05:15 pm

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on so-called webcam abortions in the state on Friday, arguing it placed an “undue burden” on women.

Iowa’s webcam abortions enable a doctor to prescribe the RU-486 abortion pill regimen by teleconference. Rather than meeting a doctor in person, women at rural clinics have a virtual consultation with doctors in Des Moines or Iowa City. After doctors prescribe the drugs, women take one pill at the clinic and a second at home. If they have bleeding or severe complications, they may have to find another doctor at a local emergency room.

The Iowa Board of Medicine had agreed to outlaw the practice in 2013 for safety concerns, but its decision was placed on hold while Planned Parenthood fought the decision in court. Last year, a district judge upheld the ban. But in Friday’s decision, six justices on the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled the medicine board’s ban unconstitutional because it made abortions too difficult for women to obtain.

The plaintiff in the case, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, has performed 7,200 webcam abortions since 2008. They are also sometimes called “telemed” abortions.

Iowa was the first state to launch such a webcam abortion scheme. Planned Parenthood executives there began planning the system in mid-2007 as a way to perform first-trimester abortions at rural clinics where it was too expensive for them to keep a doctor on staff. Iowa law requires abortion drugs to be prescribed by a physician.

The drug regimen involves mifepristone and misoprostol: One drug kills the baby, the other expels it. The pills are only approved for use up to the seventh week of pregnancy, although abortion providers routinely offer them through the ninth week. Potential complications include heavy bleeding, and in rare cases women have died of blood infections after taking the drugs.

In one study, 1 out of every 13 women using the abortion pill required follow-up surgery to treat bleeding or to abort the baby after RU-486 failed to do so. In cases when the drug fails to kill the baby, there remains a risk of fetal abnormalities because of the drug’s effect.

Between September 2000 and April 2011, a total of 612 women had to be hospitalized after taking the drugs.

“The Iowa Supreme Court has approved a dangerous medical practice banned by 16 other states,” said Tom Brejcha, president of the Thomas More Society, which supported the ban. “There is a grave danger that telemed abortion may be assumed by abortion activists to render obsolete their need for on-site abortion providers across the country, greatly increasing the health risks for women who undergo medical abortions in remote areas.”

According to The Des Moines Register, the decision was thought to be the first time in 40 years the Iowa Supreme Court has weighed an abortion case.

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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