- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2015

An Iowa rule blocking “webcam” abortions has been struck down as unconstitutional by the state’s highest court.

Requiring an in-person physical exam of the woman by a doctor before the early abortion put an “undue burden” on the woman, the Iowa Supreme Court said in a ruling released Friday.

The court’s ruling was a victory for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which opposed an administrative rule by the Iowa Board of Medicine.

Iowa is the first state to have used telemedicine for abortions; about 7,000 webcam abortions have been done in urban Iowa centers since 2008, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Minnesota is the only other state that permits it.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland argued that the Iowa medical board’s rule “cut off” women in rural and medically underserved areas from access to safe, legal abortions.

The abortion provider also said its “telehealth” protocols have been shown to be just as safe and effective as its in-person protocols.

Women receiving telehealth at a health center are counseled and personally examined by medical professionals; those professionals are also present when women speak with the abortion doctors via webcam or other video technology.

Then, when a woman takes the first of two abortion pills, she does so while the doctor watches her remotely, Planned Parenthood said.

Medication abortions — which involve RU-486, the abortion pill, and a second pill, misoprostol or Cytotec — are used to end pregnancies that are up to seven  weeks, and they are sometimes used on pregnancies as old as nine weeks.

Troy Newman, president of the pro-life group Operation Rescue, said the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling was “unconscionable.”

Medication abortions have “a failure rate of 45-79 per 1,000 women,” Mr. Newman said, citing the Food and Drug Administration. Claims that such abortions don’t have complications “have no credibility whatsoever,” he said.

Some 19 states ban webcam abortions, said Operation Rescue, which actively worked to get webcam abortions blocked in Iowa.

Abortion providers “must be held to basic medical standards of care,” said Natalie Decker, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

ADF had urged the Iowa Supreme Court to uphold the telemedicine rule on behalf of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Donna J. Harrison, M.D.; Iowa Right to Life; and Susan Thayer, a former director of an Iowa Planned Parenthood facility who resigned her position rather than perform “webcam” abortions.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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