The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected a state rule requiring doctors to see abortion patients in person, ruling that a regional Planned Parenthood unit may continue administering abortion-inducing medications using remote video technology.
The unanimous decision by six justices released on Friday said the rule violated the state's constitution and placed an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions because Planned Parenthood had only three clinics and that many women would need to drive hundreds of miles to reach the clinics.
The rule was passed in July 2013 by the Iowa Board of Medicine, which regulates the practice of medicine in the state, requiring doctors to physically be with patients when they administer abortion-inducing drugs. The rule effectively banned telemedicine abortion, in which a doctor instructs a patient to take the drugs over a two-way video connection.
In September 2013 Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which has been administering telemedicine abortions in Iowa since 2008, sued the Iowa Board of Medicine claiming that the board had acted out of an improper political motive.
A lower Iowa court upheld the rule in August 2014, and Planned Parenthood appealed to the Supreme Court. The rule had been put on hold while the court considered the case.
In addition to finding an "undue burden" on patients, Iowa's Supreme Court said there was little evidence in the case that an in-person visit was medically necessary, especially since the board allows telemedicine in other situations.
"It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Board’s medical concerns about telemedicine are selectively limited to abortion," wrote Justice David Wiggins, author of the opinion.
Mark Bowden, executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine, said the board would review and discuss the impact of the opinion at its next meeting in July.
"The board adopted the rule to address what it saw as the unsafe practice of medicine," Bowden said. "The rule did not adopt the rule to place an undue burden on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies."
Planned Parenthood welcomed Friday's ruling.
"A woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions, including the right to obtain an abortion, is a personal liberty guaranteed in our Iowa Constitution," said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland CEO Suzanna de Baca in a statement. "We are pleased that the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld Iowa’s tradition of honoring those freedoms."
(Editing by Ted Botha and Grant McCool)