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DES MOINES – Leaders of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland today filed a lawsuit asking a district judge to block the Iowa Board of Medicine from implementing a rule change next month that would curtail doctors' ability to dispense abortion-inducing pills via a video-conferencing system.
Members of the state board that oversees and regulates physicians and medical practices in Iowa voted last month to adopt rules that Planned Parenthood contends would restrict access to abortion in Iowa, particularly in the state's rural areas.
In seeking judicial review in Polk County District Court, Planned Parenthood and its medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows, asked the court to issue a motion for a stay that would render the rule "to be ineffective during litigation."
"This rule by the Iowa Board of Medicine puts the health and well-being of Iowa women in jeopardy and impedes my ability to offer safe health care in rural communities throughout this state," Meadows said in a statement. "Over the past five years, our physicians have provided medication abortion through telemedicine to more than 3,000 women in Iowa. During that time we have received no patient complaints."
The state board voted 8-2 to approve a proposed administrative rule that would establish standards of practice for physicians who prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs. The revised rule – which could take effect Nov. 6 – would require in-person meetings between doctors and patients along with direct after-care services.
In proposing the change, a majority of board members said the issue was about the standard of care, not about abortion.
However, Planned Parenthood officials contend the Board of Medicine's ruling "was based on politics and will unjustly hurt Iowa women," adding "This decision not only bans Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's telemedicine delivery system for medication abortion, it also requires unnecessary medical services prior to receiving medication abortion."
Jill June, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the No. 1 priority of her organization is the health and safety of the patients served.
"The decision by the Board of Medicine jeopardizes the health of women in our state and creates unnecessary barriers for a woman to obtain the safe health care she needs. This unwarranted decision only serves to delay receipt of quality health care. Planned Parenthood will not stand by and let this happen to our patients and the women of Iowa," June said in a statement.
"It's evident that this ruling was not based on the health and safety of women in our state – it was based on politics," she added. "There was no medical evidence or information presented to the board that questions the safety of our telemedicine delivery system.
"It's apparent that the goal of this rule is to eliminate abortion in Iowa, and it has nothing to do with the safety of telemedicine. The reality is, this rule will only make it more challenging for a woman to receive the safe health care she needs," according to June's statement. "We will stand up for Iowa women, and we will do all we can to make sure this arbitrary and capricious ruling does not stand."
At issue is a practice whereby licensed physicians use a remote-controlled system to conduct medical assessments with patients in rural Iowa clinics. They then are able to dispense Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a pregnancy.
Proponents say Planned Parenthood's practice – implemented in 2008 -- is safe and patients get the same level of care as those who see a doctor in person. They contend telemedicine procedure was thoroughly researched to ensure it was in full compliance with Iowa law and service helps women in remote parts of the state.
Abortion opponents asked the state board to block the program, saying it violates state medical standards and poses a health risk to women because it doesn't entail a face-to-face meeting with the doctor.