Iowa House approves ban on telemedicine abortions

Bill is about safety not banning telemedicine, lawmakers said

A ban on telemedicine abortions would become state law under a measure approved by the Iowa House Tuesday.

Representatives voted 55-42 to approve House File 2175 that would ban the practice of doctors prescribing abortion-inducing drugs from remote locations, typically using a video link.

The vote is the latest development in an ongoing debate over the practice often used to provide abortions to women in rural areas where access to abortion providers is limited.

The Iowa Board of Medicine last year approved rules similar to those in 14 other states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy center, requiring doctors to be physically present with a patient when they prescribe abortion-causing medication. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland then filed suit and a Polk County district court put a stay on the rules until the case is resolved.

Under HF 2175, doctors could be fined and have their licenses suspended for performing abortion-inducing. Fines and license suspension provisions were amended onto the bill to replace criminal penalties originally included in the bill.

Floor manager Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny, said the bill was about the safety of women who use the abortion-inducing drugs. He referenced thousands of “adverse effects” including 14 deaths the federal Food and Drug Administration has documented. The drugs, he added, are approved by the FDA for use in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. In Iowa, telemedicine abortions were allowed up to nine weeks.

He also cited a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll that found 66 percent of Iowans oppose telemedicine abortions.

“This bill is not about preventing telemedicine from advancing,” Koester said. “It has many proper applications. I want to see that continue.”

However, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said HF 2175 had nothing to do with safety.

“While you and I may disagree about the reasons a woman may choose to have an abortion, we can all agree that protecting a woman’s health and safety at all times is important,” she said. “This bill has nothing to do with safety.”

The adverse reactions Koester spoke of are extremely minimal compared to any other form of abortion or any other telemedicine procedure, she said.

“It’s probably the safest thing done over telemedicine,” she added.

The number of abortions performed in Iowa has decreased since Planned Parenthood began offering telemedicine abortions in 2008, she added.

“What I want for women and Iowa is choice and safety and this bill offers neither,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Instead, Wessel-Kroeschell said it “has everything to do about ending abortions in Iowa, albeit a small portion of those abortions. It has nothing to do with safety.”

For Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, typically a sponsor of anti-abortion bills, called his vote on HF 2175 “one of the toughest moral decisions I’ve had to struggle with” since becoming a legislator.

Although he believes it is his duty to defend all innocent life, he voted against the bill because it “violates the very stated purposes of our Declaration of Independence, it violates the U.S. Constitution.”

“It does not provide equal protection,” he said. “Equal protection is not requested. It is demanded.”

He was the only Republican to vote against the bill. Three Democrats, Reps. Dan Mulbauer, Phyllis Thede and Nancy Dunkel, voted against the bill.

The bill faces long odds of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“We’re going to continue protect women’s rights to effective health care in the state of Iowa,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D- Council Bluffs, said when asked about the ban. 

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