CREDIT: Feminist Campus
At the beginning of the month, right before the Labor Day weekend, Iowa’s medical board quietly voted to severely restrict abortion access for the economically disadvantaged women in the state. The move largely went unnoticed at the time. But now, Planned Parenthood is fighting back in court.
Planned Parenthood is suing the state in the hopes of preserving the largest telemedicine abortion program in the country. Since 2008, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has been using video technology to allow doctors to prescribe abortion pills to women over webchat, a program primarily aimed at low-income and rural women who don’t have the means to make an in-person trip to a clinic. Iowa’s Board of Medicine recently decided to ban the practice somewhat arbitrarily.
“There was no medical evidence or information presented to the Board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system,” Jill June, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement. “It’s apparent that the goal of this rule is to eliminate abortion in Iowa, and it has nothing to do with the safety of telemedicine.”
Multiple studies have proven that using telemedicine to administer the abortion pill is just as safe and effective as administering it in person. And more broadly, telemedicine services are becoming an increasingly common method of delivering health care. But opponents of telemedicine abortion don’t typically take issue with remote health services in general — they’re only opposed to it when it’s used to perform abortions.
Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine program was approved by the medical board as recently as 2010. But since then, Iowa’s anti-choice governor stacked the supposedly nonpartisan board with abortion opponents. Every single member of the state’s Board of Medicine has been replaced over the past two years. “It’s evident that this ruling was not based on the health and safety of women in our state — it was based on politics,” June pointed out.
If the new rule isn’t blocked in court and ends up taking effect on November 6, as it is currently scheduled, Planned Parenthood will be forced to suspend its telemedicine abortion services in about 15 different health centers across the state.
And if the policy is allowed to stand, it could have huge implications for the future of reproductive rights across the country. As abortion clinics are closing at a record pace, and as women are increasingly forced to cross state lines to get an abortion, the potential to expand telemedicine programs is becoming more important than ever. This type of new technology could represent the next battleground in abortion rights. But abortion opponents have anticipated that growing need, and are moving to preemptively ban the practice before new programs can even get off the ground.