telemed photo

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, checks his notes before the start of a Statehouse news conference Monday at which he and seven other GOP legislators called for a leadership bill that would enable the Iowa Senate to debate a House-passed bill banning telemedicine abortions in Iowa. On the table in front of Johnson is a stack of petitions bearing at least 30,000 names of Iowans opposed to the practice of doctors prescribing abortion-inducing drugs from remote locations, typically using a video link, that were gathered by anti-abortion activists around the state.


DES MOINES — A group of Republican senators called Monday on majority-party Democrats to use a procedural bypass to resurrect an ineligible House-passed bill banning telemedicine abortions so the Iowa Senate can debate the measure and forward it to Gov. Terry Branstad for his signature.

"We believe, with the help of leadership from both parties, that we can bring this to the floor, and we are confident it will win the same bipartisan support that it had in the House of Representatives," said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan. "What we're saying is let's bring this to a vote."

However, Democrats who control the Senate by a 26-24 edge, said the Legislature should not interfere politically with an issue that is before the courts via a legal challenge to an Iowa Board of Medicine decision curtailing the practice of doctors prescribing abortion-inducing drugs from remote locations, typically using a video link.

"I'm disappointed Iowa Republicans have launched a new front in the national so-called 'war on women' by opposing affordable, safe access to health care for rural Iowans," said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, a member of the Senate Human Resources Committee. 

"Mixing politics and medical care is a mistake. There is no reason for Republican politicians to be in the room when women and their doctors make important, personal medical decisions," he added. "Telemedicine is an increasingly effective and affordable way to deliver health care to rural Iowans."

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, rebuked Bolkcom's statement as "offensive," and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, called it "absolutely ludicrous" when most Iowans support the effort to protect women from a practice the state medical panel has seemed unsafe and substandard care.

"Trying to protect the life and well-being of women by banning a procedure that doesn't even meet a humane standard of care is a war on women? Seriously?" Sinclair said during a Statehouse news conference. "Honestly, that statement doesn't even deserve an intelligent response."

"The procedure can be physically risky, even deadly, and emotionally devastating to these women," added Ernst. "Telemed abortions must not be allowed to continue in Iowa, and today we are asking that our Senate leadership sponsor a leadership bill."

Last month, representatives voted 55-42 to approve House File 2175, which would ban the practice of doctors prescribing abortion-inducing drugs from remote locations using a two-way video link. The House vote followed an 8-2 decision by the state Board of Medicine last year to require doctors to be physically present with a patient when they prescribe abortion-causing medication.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland then filed suit, and a Polk County District judge put a stay on the rules until the case is resolved.

Under HF 2175, doctors could be fined and have their licenses suspended for performing abortion-inducing measures. Fines and license suspension provisions were amended onto the bill to replace criminal penalties originally included.

Johnson said Republicans are supportive of telemedicine, but they believe that using the technology for "webcam abortions" is a practice that "degrades our humanity" and requires state intervention to end it.

"What we need to make sure is that all women are being protected by a certain standard of care regardless of what procedure they're facing, and currently telemedicine abortions do not stand up to any common standard of care that would protect the life and the well-being of a woman," Sinclair added.

When told that minority Republicans wanted a leadership bill that would reinstate the telemed abortion issue this session, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said, "I'm sure they do." Asked if he expected one would be forthcoming, co-sponsored by him and Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock, Gronstal said no.