DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A new Iowa rule ending the practice of distributing abortion-inducing pills via a conferencing system will move forward, a legislative committee decided Monday.
The Iowa Board of Medicine's rule will now go into effect Nov. 6. The committee meeting was the last opportunity to stop the rule administratively. The issue is now up to the courts.
The system in question allows Planned Parenthood of the Heartland to offer the abortion-inducing pills at clinics in 15 remote locations where the organization doesn't have doctors who can meet with patients in person. Instead, a doctor, typically based in Des Moines, meets with the women using an Internet video system before giving them the drugs, one dose to be taken at the office, the other at home.
Sen. Tom Courtney, a Burlington Democrat, proposed delaying the rule, but Republicans on the Administrative Rules Review Committee had enough votes to defeat the motion.
Courtney said it's obvious the rule is targeting only abortion because the medical board admitted it did not consider any other telemedicine procedures performed in Iowa. He also said the rule will have the most severe effect on those who live in rural areas and do not have a local doctor nearby.
"Whether you agree with abortion or not, it's federal law right now," he said. "I believe it's just another way of sneaking around and trying to outlaw a legal procedure."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an abortion drug in 2000. The medication is typically offered to women in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood established the Iowa program in 2008, and it was the first such system in the U.S. Since 2011, 16 states have enacted laws barring telemedicine abortions, though not all of those laws are currently in effect, a spokeswoman for Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think-tank, has said.
Earlier this summer, abortion opponents petitioned the Iowa Board of Medicine to establish new rules that require a doctor to be physically present with a woman when an abortion-inducing drug is provided and require a follow-up visit by the doctor. It would effectively end the program in many rural areas.
The organization says the program benefits women in rural locations and that it's received no complaints from patients. But medical board members said they had concerns about the process and the care women were receiving; they said the goal wasn't to restrict abortion access.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn said Monday many women develop complications, which can include heavy bleeding, after being sent home.
According to FDA statistics, an estimated 1.5 million women used mifepristone, the first of the two abortion pills given, between September 2000 and April 2011; 14 deaths were reported and 2,207 women said they experienced some type of adverse event.
Pettengill also said the rule sets up a doctor-patient relationship that will be safer for patients.
Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa said the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion says states have a legitimate interest in seeing that abortions are performed in a way that ensures maximum safety of patients — which includes aftercare and adequate provisions for complications that may arise.
"I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one, but I do respect the decision of this board and what they're trying to accomplish," he said.
Sharon Malheiro, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood, said a lawsuit filed Sept. 30 in Polk County District Court asks a judge to stop the rule from taking effect. The lawsuit alleges violation of federal and state constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.
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