DES MOINES, Iowa, June 19 (UPI) -- The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday overturned a ban on the state's unique telemedicine abortion method, which gives access to the procedure to women in rural areas.
The justices voted unanimously to allow Planned Parenthood doctors to continue providing the service to women who would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion.
In 2008, Iowa was the first state to make use of telemedicine abortion, in which a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy is first examined by a nurse at a smaller, nearby clinic. She then has a teleconference interview with a doctor from Planned Parenthood facilities in Des Moines or Iowa City, Iowa, who determines whether to prescribe the woman abortion pills.
If the doctor moves forward with the procedure, they press a button that opens a drawer containing the pills in the woman's exam room. She takes one pill while still on video with the doctor, then takes the rest of the pills at home to complete the abortion.
The Iowa Board of Medicine in 2013 created a rule requiring doctors to perform a physical exam before a woman mmay have an abortion, effectively banning the use of telemedicine abortion.
The high court overturned that rule Friday in response to a lawsuit brought by Planned Pregnancy, saying the rule violated the "undue burden" granted by the Iowa Constitution for women seeking abortions.
"While undoubtedly at an abstract level everyone would prefer to see a doctor in person every time they have a medical issue, the reality of modern medicine is otherwise," wrote Justice David Wiggins in the opinion issued by the court. "In this case, the record indicates the physician plays an important role in reviewing the ultrasound images and dispensing the prescribed medications, but those roles can be performed without the physician being personally present.
"At the same time, the record indicates that the telemedicine rule would make it more challenging for many women who wish to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in Iowa to do so."
Planned Parenthood called the ruling a "victory for women."
"This ruling is a big victory for Iowa women. This unanimous ruling says that a state cannot single out abortion with a different set of rules that don't apply to any other health care procedure, and that a state cannot prevent women from accessing safe, legal abortion," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.