Iowa Anti-Choice Activists Attempt to Cirumvent Legislature to Ban Telemed Abortions


The practice of telemedicine abortion has long been seen as a way to greatly expand access to safe, legal abortion, especially in rural areas where providers are scarce and restrictions many. Anti-choice activists have been eager to ban the process in as many states as they can. One state where they haven’t been successful is Iowa, the birthplace of telemed abortion. Now, since abortion opponents have been blocked from banning telemed abortion via the state legislature, they are targeting the state medical board.

According to the WFC Courier, Iowa Right to Life is spearheading an effort to demand that the Iowa Board of Medicine “stop webcam abortions,” presenting what they say is 20,000 signatures from medical professionals who believe patients “deserve better care than what amounts to an impersonal, subpar, and dangerous system like webcam abortion.”

However, it is inaccurate to call the system either subpar or dangerous. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at the effects of introducing telemed abortion in Iowa, which began in 2008. It showed that not only is the practice safe, it also decreases the number of people obtaining abortions in the second trimester. The study reported a “high rate of satisfaction and low rate of complications.”

This would not be the first time that a group has asked the state medical board to rule telemed abortions too dangerous or a violation of medical standards, and the argument against the practiced has remained the same. The charge—that a video conversation with a doctor is not the same as being in his or her physical presence when the abortion pill is ingested—was leveled at the board by anti-choice terrorist group Operation Rescue back in 2010. What has changed since then is the make-up of the board. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad added a Catholic priest who opposes telemed abortions to the medical board in 2012. This was after the senate rejected his first medical board nominee, Colleen Pasnik, also who actively lobbied with Operation Rescue in an attempt to end telemed abortion.

This also isn’t the first time anti-choice advocates have tried circumventing the legislature. In 2012, when Iowa politicians were unable to get a ban on Medicaid coverage for abortions in cases of fetal anomaly, a number of them issued an “emergency rule” to the state Department of Human Services. That ploy failed when the governor blocked it, concerned that it would put other Medicaid funding in jeopardy; however, per the newly passed state budget Gov. Branstad will approve Medicaid funding for those abortions individually.

The Iowa Board of Medicine will have 60 days to rule on whether it will deny the petition.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Robin Marty on twitter: @robinmarty