By Dave Andrusko
After a lengthy run-up, the issue of webcam abortions will come squarely before the Iowa Supreme Court this Wednesday.
The Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys, who has covered the issue for the state’s dominant newspaper, dropped a new piece of information in his story today:
When Planned Parenthood lawyers go before the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday, they’ll be asking for more than permission to continue using a controversial telemedicine system for dispensing abortion pills. They’ll also be asking the justices to declare that the Iowa Constitution protects women’s right to abortion.
Such a ruling could give Iowa abortion-rights proponents a stronger hand in future court battles, an independent legal expert said.
“It could call into question almost any limit on abortion,” said Ryan Koopmans, a Des Moines lawyer who writes a blog about Supreme Court cases.
What to say? That while “Wednesday’s hearing is believed to be the first time in more than 40 years that the Iowa Supreme Court will directly consider the issue of abortion,” the state’s highest court does not need to address whether the state constitution “protects” a woman’s “right” to abortion, even if Planned Parenthood of the Heartland wants it to.
Obviously any pro-abortion organization would like a decision that “finds” a “right” to abortion in a state constitution. But the issue before the Iowa Supreme Court is not whether there is a “right” to abortion, but whether the kind of “care” offered by webcam abortions is legal under Iowa law.
Webcam abortions are premised around a system where the abortionist is not present when the woman receives the two-drugs that make up the chemical abortion technique. The Iowa Board of Medicine held a hearing about its proposed rule that abortionists could not dispense abortion-causing drugs via a remote video-conferencing system. According to Register’s Jason Noble
In one especially heated exchange, medical board member and West Des Moines physician Bob Bender grilled Robert Shaw, a pediatrician and Planned Parenthood board member, on physicians’ level of involvement in the examination of patients before an abortion drug is prescribed.
Bender repeatedly asked Shaw whether he had ever relied on a certified medical assistant to perform an initial patient examination – something another Planned Parenthood representative had suggested sometimes occurred in telemedicine abortion situations.
Shaw refused to answer the question, however, arguing that his personal medical experience was irrelevant to questions over the standard of care provided in telemedicine abortions.
The Board of Medicine passed the rule and when Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit, the Board of Medicine responded that under state law, only physicians may provide abortions. Referring to the state’s legal brief, Leys reported
“Abortion-inducing drugs are not over the counter medications,” the state lawyers wrote. “Unless and until such a time when abortion-inducing drugs are no longer required to be dispensed by physicians, physicians must do so within the confines of the standard of care. The Board of Medicine determined the standard of care requires a physical examination prior to dispensing abortion-inducing drugs.”
Currently 16 states have laws requiring that the abortionist be in the same room as the woman when the abortion drugs are dispensed.
And while this rarely gets addressed in media accounts, the dangers of web-cam abortions are not merely speculation.
An April 30, 2011, FDA “Mifepristone U.S. Postmarketing Adverse Events Summary” found more than 2,200 “adverse events” associated with use of the abortion drugs [RU-486 and a prostaglandin], including 14 women in the U.S. who died. Women taking the drug were hospitalized with ruptured ectopic pregnancies, blood loss requiring transfusions, and infections that proved deadly in at least eight cases.
And that was nearly four years ago.