10/31/2014

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Judge suspends ban on Iowa abortion pill system

Judge suspends ban on Iowa abortion pill system
Phil Thiltrickett, an opponent of an abortion, holds a rosary as he prays outside a Planned Parenthood Clinic, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa judge ruled Tuesday that Planned Parenthood could still use video conferencing to distribute abortion-inducing pills while the organization challenges a new ban on the practice in court.

The ban, approved by the Iowa Board of Medicine in August, was scheduled to take effect Wednesday.

The new rules require a doctor to be physically present with a woman when an abortion-inducing drug is provided. The change targeted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's practice of enabling doctors, typically based in Des Moines, to prescribe the drugs while meeting with patients in rural areas though a secure Internet video connection.

In granting Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary stay, Polk County District Judge Karen Romano said the board had not supplied evidence that the system was either unsafe or negatively impacted patient health. Rather, she said the ban could delay a woman's ability to have a chemical abortion or force a woman to have a surgical abortion.

Romano did not rule on the merits of the case, though she said it was peculiar that the board would mandate the ban for abortion services but not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa.

Iowa Board of Medicine Executive Director Mark Bowden said the decision perpetuates what the board believes is inadequate health care for Iowa women seeking abortions.

"The board believes that a physician must establish an appropriate physician-patient relationship prior to the provision of a medical abortion," he said in a statement on behalf of the board. "The physician's in-person medical interview and physical examination of the patient are essential to establishing that relationship."

Planned Parenthood supporters have argued that the ban reflected board members' opposition to abortion, noting that the board was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad, a conservative Republican and abortion-rights opponent.

The organization applauded the judge's decision Tuesday.

"Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our patients," Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Jill June said in a statement. "Allowing the rule to be ineffective during litigation will ensure that Iowa women can continue to receive safe health care, without delay, from the provider they trust."

Branstad did not directly respond to the judge's ruling, but spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor commends the board for its "open and transparent process" in approving the ban.

"The governor shares the concerns brought forward by those in the medical community concerning webcam abortions, and believes a serious, thoughtful and open discussion needs to occur as to whether women are receiving an adequate standard of care when undergoing this procedure," Albrecht said in a statement.

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Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey in Des Moines contributed to this report.
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