Iowa will not be able to ban doctors from using video technology to administer the abortion pill — a practice known as “telemedicine abortion” — thanks to a district judge’s ruling on Tuesday afternoon. The judge’s decision ensures that low-income and rural women in the state will still have access to reproductive health care even if they don’t have the means to make an in-person trip to a doctor’s office.
Allowing doctors to prescribe the abortion pill over webchat primarily benefits economically disadvantaged women, and Iowa’s Planned Parenthood affiliate has been offering this service since 2008 without any issues. Multiple studies have reviewed Iowa’s program and confirmed that it’s totally safe. Nonetheless, anti-choice officials in the state recently decided they wanted to ban it.
Right before Labor Day weekend, the medical board — which Iowa’s Republican governor has stacked full of abortion opponents — quietly voted to eliminate the largest telemedicine abortion program in the country. The board claimed it’s not safe to allow women to take abortion-inducing drugs when they’re not in the physical presence of a doctor. Planned Parenthood quickly filed a lawsuit to overturn the new restriction, pointing out that there wasn’t any medical evidence to justify getting rid of the program.
In a scathing 16-page opinion, District Judge Karen Romano appears to agree with the national women’s health organization. Romano temporarily blocked the new restriction just one day before it was scheduled to take effect, pointing out that she’s “not entirely persuaded” that banning telemedicine abortion services actually achieves the board’s stated goal of protecting women.
“The court strains to understand how decreasing the number of apparently effective and safe abortion services offered to Iowa women pending the resolution of this case supports the public’s interest in receiving ‘adequate’ health care,” the judge wrote. “If anything, the opposite is true; women who would be unable to attend one of the five remaining clinics that could maintain chemical abortion services despite the implementation of (the proposed rule) would not receive adequate health care as they would likely be unable to access those services.”
Romano pointed out that limiting low-income women’s access to the abortion pill could put them in serious danger. “Women may even choose to self-terminate their pregnancies if they are left with no other option, which is undoubtedly the least safe method of abortion,” she wrote.
Planned Parenthood is celebrating the ruling. “The court saw that this restriction had no basis in medicine, and that in fact it would have jeopardized women’s health,” the organization’s president, Cecile Richards, said in a statement. “This ruling protects access to abortion early in pregnancy, especially for women in rural communities.”
This marks the second big legal victory for women’s access to the abortion pill so far this week. On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed a case from Oklahoma that could have given the justices an opportunity to allow states to broadly restrict medication abortions. Limiting access to abortion-inducing drugs is becoming an increasingly popular method of attempting to attack reproductive rights, but so far, it hasn’t necessarily held up in the courts.