The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a rule last week prohibiting doctors from administering abortion-inducing drugs remotely via technology.
In a unanimous decision, the court said the rule, which requires doctors to be physically present when an abortion-inducing drug is provided, violated women's constitutional rights.
Planned Parenthood has been performing telemedicine abortions in Iowa since 2008. Under the procedure, a trained staff member takes a patient's medical history, checks vital signs, collects blood and performs an ultrasound. A doctor in a different location reviews the information and, via videoconferencing, talks with the patient and then remotely releases a drawer that contains medications given to the patient.
In 2013, the Iowa Board of Medicine passed a rule prohibiting the practice, citing patient safety.
Planned Parenthood has argued the rule's true purpose was to limit women's access to abortions.
In its opinion, the court said the rule places an undue burden on a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy. “Whenever (other) telemedicine occurs, the physician at the remote location does not perform a physical examination of the patient,” the court wrote. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Board's medical concerns about telemedicine are selectively limited to abortion.”
The board has said it would soon discuss how to apply the ruling. A spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said the governor was disappointed by the ruling but it was too early to speculate as to whether there will be an appeal.
Nathaniel Lacktman, a partner at law firm Foley & Lardner in Florida, said the ruling is a great win in support of telemedicine services. Joseph McMenamin, a lawyer in Richmond, Va., who focuses much of his work on telemedicine, said the fact that the Iowa Supreme Court saw no problem with telemedicine abortions may suggest a level of acceptance of telemedicine that advocates couldn't claim five or 10 years ago.
Sixteen states require that clinicians be physically present when prescribing abortion-inducing drugs, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.