DES MOINES — Lawmakers adopted a rule effectively outlawing the practice of telemedicine abortions in Iowa on a party-line vote Monday.
The 5-4 vote came following a 54-minute hearing in the Statehouse in front of the Administrative Rules Review Committee. The committee is a bipartisan panel of both houses of the Legislature that has oversight of the agency rulemaking process.
Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology to diagnose patients and prescribe medicine remotely.
It’s used in a wide variety of circumstances, but the Iowa Board of Medicine keyed on its use in cases of abortion-inducing drugs in response to a citizen petition.
“I’m really happy you’re doing this,” Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, said to the board’s attorney and its executive director. Pettengill joined the other Republicans in voting against an attempt by Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, to delay implementation.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland pre-emptively filed a lawsuit in Polk County Circuit Court seeking an injunction against the new rule, which could delay its implementation.
Planned Parenthood has 15 affiliated clinics that have used the telemedicine system since 2008 and have dispensed at least 3,000 pills since 2010.
The rule adopted by the Board of Medicine requires a physician to have an in-person exam with a woman who wants to have a chemical abortion. It also requires a physician to be present when the abortion is induced and for a follow-up examination.
Planned Parenthood thinks the rule, which was approved by the Board of Medicine on an 8-2 vote, puts the health of women at risk, especially those in rural communities who may not have easy access to a physician.
But supporters of the rule have said an in-person exam should be required before abortion-inducing drugs can be prescribed to patients.
Jeanine Freeman, executive vice president for the Iowa Medical Society, testified at Monday’s hearing, saying the group doesn’t have a value judgment on the practice of abortion but nonetheless found the action by the Board of Medicine “troublesome.”
“We are highly concerned about the processes used by the Board of Medicine coming to this,” Freeman said, adding there were limited discussions with the medical society before the rule was adopted.