- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Legislation banning the remote distribution of abortion pills to pregnant women in Iowa was backed by the Iowa House on Tuesday.

In a 55-42 vote, the Republican-majority House endorsed the bill. It now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to advance further.

The bill would prohibit the use of webcams or teleconferencing as a means of dispensing abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations. Under the legislation, women seeking an abortion would have to be in the presence of a physician when receiving the pills.

Republican Rep. Kevin Koester, of Ankeny, said the goal of the legislation was to block a health practice he described as unsafe.

“The bill ensures that women have the best possible standard of care and we take one unsafe procedure off the table,”

But Democratic Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, of Ames, argued that the bill is an attempt to restrict access to abortion in Iowa. She noted that no complaints have been filed with the Iowa Board of Medicine over this practice.

“This bill has nothing to do with safety. This bill has everything to do with ending abortions in Iowa,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. She later added: “What I want for women in Iowa is choice and safety and this bill offers neither.”

Abortion advocates have said the legislation could make it harder for women in rural areas to seek this treatment, because the pills are only appropriate in the early stages of pregnancy. Supporters of the bill have argued that more women might consider carrying out a pregnancy without immediate access to abortion pills.

The Iowa Board of Medicine last summer adopted rules regarding the administration of abortion pills that were set to go into effect in November. Those rules effectively banned the telemedicine practice by requiring the physical presence of a physician.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides abortion pills at 12 remote locations throughout Iowa, challenged the regulations, and a judge ruled the organization could keep using video conferencing to distribute the drugs until the matter is resolved by the courts.

Planned Parenthood became the first organization to implement such a system when it began the Iowa program in 2008.

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