DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa regulators had the authority to ban a video-conferencing system that allows doctors in cities to distribute abortion-inducing pills to women in rural clinics, a Polk County District judge ruled Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland had sued the Iowa Board of Medicine, saying the ban reflected board members' opposition to abortion and was a blatant attempt to limit access. Judge Jeffrey Farrell ruled in favor of the board, saying it had authority to regulate such issues and had met legal requirements for making new rules, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1titHdA ) reported.
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's practice of enabling doctors to prescribe the drugs while meeting with patients in rural areas through an Internet video connection.
A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said her agency would appeal. The ruling takes effect in 30 days.
Farrell wrote that the board held hearings and accepted written comments as required, though he did note that some of its moves invited scrutiny, including acting on the petition three days after receiving it and declining a request from a doctors' association to take more time to consider it. All 10 board members were appointed by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who opposes abortion.
More than 6,400 women have used the video-conferencing system to obtain abortion pills since 2008. The number of total abortions in the state dropped 30 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to state records.
Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, predicted fewer women will have abortions when the system is no longer available.
"It could be 12 lives saved in a year," she said. "It could be 1,200 lives saved in a year."
Planned Parenthood said the videoconferencing system is a way for women to safely get abortions in towns where no doctors provide them.
"While the board of medicine claims it is acting to protect women's safety and health, its true purpose is to prevent women from receiving an abortion if and when they need one. And the rule would actually jeopardize women's health by delaying their care," Penny Dickey, the agency's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood of the Heartland will continue to fight for evidence-based medicine and a woman's right to make her personal health care decisions."
The system allows Planned Parenthood doctors in Des Moines or Iowa City to view sonogram results and talk with patients via closed-circuit video. If a woman is deemed eligible for an early-term abortion, she obtains pills from a drawer opened remotely by the doctor, takes the first one while the doctor watches, then takes the others at home.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com