Judge places temporary stay on Iowa rule requiring abortionists to be in same room as women receiving chemical abortifacients

By Dave Andrusko

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano

Polk County District Judge Karen Romano Tuesday agreed with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and ordered a temporary stay of a rule passed by the Iowa Board of Medicine in August requiring that abortionists be in the room with the pregnant woman when she receives the two-drugs that make up the chemical abortion technique RU-486.

The effect of Judge Romano’s 16-page ruling is that the rule, scheduled to go into effect today, will not while the court battle proceeds.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland applauded the judge’s decision.

“Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our patients,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Jill June said in a statement. “Allowing the rule to be ineffective during litigation will ensure that Iowa women can continue to receive safe health care, without delay, from the provider they trust.”

Iowa Right to Life and the executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine strongly disagreed.

“It is devastating that Judge Romano and the abortion industry in Iowa are ignoring the health and well-being of women to push their own agenda and continue to make this about abortion access, and about politics,” said Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life. “These abortions, where a woman never physically sees a doctor, who goes home to hemorrhage for days and ultimately deliver her dead baby, is not empowering women.”

Bowen added, “Today’s decision by Judge Romano is simply one more difficult, heart-wrenching step in the battle we are ultimately going to win.”

Mark Bowden, the Board of Medicine’s executive director, told the Des Moines Register that the court’s decision to stay implementation of the rule perpetuates what state regulators believe is “inadequate health care and treatment” for Iowans who seek chemical abortions.

“The board believes that a physician must establish an appropriate physician-patient relationship prior to the provision of a medical abortion,” Bowden said in a statement. “The physician’s in-person medical interview and physical examination of the patent are essential to establishing that relationship.”

Gov. Terry Branstad did not directly respond to the judge’s ruling, according to the Associated Press. However spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor commends the board for its “open and transparent process” in approving the ban.

“The governor shares the concerns brought forward by those in the medical community concerning webcam abortions, and believes a serious, thoughtful and open discussion needs to occur as to whether women are receiving an adequate standard of care when undergoing this procedure,” Albrecht said in a statement.

Judge Romano’s opinion made a tepid acknowledgment that the Board of Medicine may know what it’s talking about, but proceeded to rule as if it didn’t. One admission and one gross over-statement are worth noting.

First, the rules mandate that the abortionist prescribing the abortion pill conduct a physical examination of the patient, be physically present when the drug is provided, and schedule a follow up to confirm completion of the abortion and evaluate the woman’s medical condition. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’ abortionists “visit” women in 10 outlying clinics via a video conferencing system. He is never in the same room, or even the same county. Everything is doing via teleconferencing. (PPH likes to fly its remote-control, web-camera abortion technique under the banner of “telemedicine,” which is a respectable practice of medicine.)

The Board of Medicine told the court that PPH could simply staff these clinics with abortionists which would put them in compliance with the new rule. “The court is persuaded that the difficulty of providing abortion services in Iowa — especially rural Iowa — is exacerbated due to the fact that so few physicians in Iowa are willing or capable of performing such services,” Judge Romano wrote.

Second, Romano shot straight to DefCon 1. If PPH can’t work out of its offices in Des Moines, “Women may even choose to self-terminate their pregnancies if they are left with no other option, which is undoubtedly the least safe method of abortion,” the judge wrote.

Finally, Judge Romano seemed puzzled that the Board of Medicine didn’t understand that remotely aborting women via teleconferencing is no different than another other use of “telemedicine.” Indeed, from the beginning PPH tried to portray opposition to its first-in-the-nation web-cam abortion system as opposition to telemedicine, which is widely practiced and widely accepted.

But Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedical Association, told USA Today (8/11/13) that remote consultations were not threatened by Iowa’s efforts to try and deal with these abortions.

It is one thing to try to conduct a consultation over an x-ray or hold a counseling session over a video conference or even to try to perform some emergency life saving procedure when medical professionals aren’t around. But it quite another thing entirely to use a video teleconferencing system to sell more abortion pills to women in rural areas for whom you don’t want to train or hire or send the staff to adequately treat.

And the fact that women who have taken RU-486 have had thousands of “adverse events” and at least 14 women have died did nothing to dissuade Judge Romano from concluding that medical board members “have not supplied the court with any evidence whatsoever that telemedicine abortions are unsafe or negatively impact patient health.”

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