The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday contesting a 2013 decision by state regulators to order limitations on the use of telemedicine for women seeking a medical abortion.
Telemedicine is the widely used practice of conferencing with a doctor through a video camera in order to diagnose or prescribe treatment to patients. Two years ago, the Iowa Board of Medicine ruled that doctors must perform in-person examinations before dispensing abortion pills, severely limiting access to the drug for many women in Iowa, specifically women from small towns who cannot travel to urban areas. State regulators claim they are trying to protect patient safety, while those contesting the limitations claim that the move is yet another restriction to women’s access to a safe, legal form of health care.
“Telemedicine has become a common practice for many different medical treatments to increase services to people in remote, rural areas,” explained Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Once again a Republican governor is stacking a state medical board with opponents to abortion to restrict access to abortion services, this time by banning the use of telemedicine for the provision of mifepristone, the abortion pill, for very early abortion via the doctor on a telephone video conference and the patient in a rural clinic. Instead the state is trying to force women to travel many miles to a doctor or to have a surgical abortion at a later day. Clearly this is placing an undue burden on women.”
The Iowa medical board has made no such restrictions for any other drug administered through telecommunications, a point which was brought up yesterday to the Iowa Supreme Court. Justice David Wiggins asked whether the Iowa board had such specifications for other areas of medicine. “Is there any other standard of care such as this contained in any rule or regulation of the [Board of Medicine] that you’re aware of?” he asked the Iowa state lawyer Jeffery Thompson. “Not that I’m aware of,” replied Thompson.
Putting the decision into perspective with a lack of restrictions on any other procedure or drug has some thinking that abortion is being singled out for special regulation.
“Can you imagine a state limiting for men access to Viagra in order to so-call “protect” men’s health and getting away with it?” asked Smeal.
Media Resources: Des Moines Register 8/19/13; 3/11/15;