DES MOINES | Leaders of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Monday filed a lawsuit asking a district judge to block the Iowa Board of Medicine from implementing a rule change next month that would curtail doctors’ ability to dispense abortion-inducing pills via a video-conferencing system.
Members of the state board that oversees and regulates physicians and medical practices in Iowa voted last month to adopt rules that Planned Parenthood contends would restrict access to abortion in Iowa, particularly in the state’s rural areas.
In seeking judicial review in Polk County District Court, Planned Parenthood and its medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows, asked the court to issue a motion for a stay that would render the rule "to be ineffective during litigation."
"This rule by the Iowa Board of Medicine puts the health and well-being of Iowa women in jeopardy and impedes my ability to offer safe health care in rural communities throughout this state,” Meadows said in a statement. "Over the past five years, our physicians have provided medication abortion through telemedicine to more than 3,000 women in Iowa. During that time we have received no patient complaints.”
The state board voted 8-2 to approve a proposed administrative rule that would establish standards of practice for physicians who prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs. The revised rule – which could take effect Nov. 6 – would require in-person meetings between doctors and patients along with direct after-care services.
In proposing the change, a majority of board members said the issue was about the standard of care, not about abortion.
However, Planned Parenthood officials contend the Board of Medicine’s ruling “was based on politics and will unjustly hurt Iowa women,” adding “This decision not only bans Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine delivery system for medication abortion, it also requires unnecessary medical services prior to receiving medication abortion.”
At issue is a practice whereby licensed physicians use a remote-controlled system to conduct medical assessments with patients in rural Iowa clinics. They then are able to dispense Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a pregnancy.
Proponents say Planned Parenthood’s practice is safe and patients get the same level of care as those who see a doctor in person. They contend the telemedicine procedure was thoroughly researched to ensure it was in full compliance with Iowa law and service helps women in remote parts of the state.
Abortion opponents asked the state board to block the program, saying it violates state medical standards and poses a health risk to women because it doesn't entail a face-to-face meeting with the doctor.