Iowa court says state's ban on 'webcam abortions' unconstitutional

Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that women in Iowa may obtain a medically induced abortion without an in-person examination by a physician.

Abortions by telemedicine -- or "webcam" abortions as they are known -- take place when a woman gets a chemical abortion without any doctor being physically present.

The patient consults with the doctor via webcam at a clinic and the doctor remotely activates a drawer in an examination room that opens to provide the woman with abortion drugs, such as RU-486.

"We are deeply disappointed in the ruling," said Matthew Heffron, who pointed out that 16 states have banned such abortions.

Heffron is an Omaha, Neb.-based attorney with the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm. He is co-author of the amicus, or friend of the court, brief filed on behalf of the Catholic Medical Associations of Des Moines and the Quad Cities, Iowans for Life, and Women's Choice Center in the Quad Cities.

In 2013, the Iowa Board of Medicine decided that webcam abortions should be banned in the state.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued the medical board, arguing that abortion is a "fundamental right" under the Iowa Constitution. A Polk County district court upheld the medical board's decision. Planned Parenthood appealed the decision and took the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. The case is officially called Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc. and Dr. Jill Meadows, M.D. v. Iowa Board of Medicine.

In March, when the state's high court heard oral arguments in the case, Heffron told The Witness, newspaper of the Dubuque archdiocese, that "this is a national test case."

Planned Parenthood is trying the court system in Iowa, he said, and he predicted that "if they're successful in this case, they will probably attempt to spread the practice in other states."

The Iowa Supreme Court held that the standard of medical practice required by the physicians of the Board of Medicine "would make it more challenging for many women" who wish to have an abortion. So the court determined the rule was unconstitutional because it placed an undue burden on the right to an abortion.

"The Iowa Legislature committed to the Iowa Board of Medicine, consisting primarily of physicians, the authority to establish a minimum standard of care for the medical profession," Heffron said in his statement. "The Board of Medicine considered all the evidence presented to it at public hearings and determined that the taking of abortion-inducing drugs require a physician's presence."

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