By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A Polk County District Court judge last week ruled in favor of the Iowa Board of Medicine, upholding its right to ban “webcam” abortions in Iowa. The ban is expected to take effect within 30 days of Judge Jeffrey Farrell’s Aug. 19 ruling, the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) reported.
Pro-life advocates in the Davenport Diocese praised the decision, while pro-choice advocates plan to take their appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Planned Parenthood system, in which physicians dispense abortion-inducing medication remotely via webcam, has been described as a first of its kind.
“We are pleased by the district court ruling upholding the Board of Medicine’s rule,” ICC Executive Director Tom Chapman said. “Ample evidence was presented leading up to the board’s vote last year questioning whether providing a chemical abortion following a consultation only by videoconference is good medical practice. In every case, the drugs that cause a chemical abortion have serious effects. We believe all abortions are wrong, but if abortions are to take place, the safety and informed consent for the women involved should be among our chief concerns. The Iowa Board of Medicine did the right thing by requiring an appropriate standard of care. Rural women deserve the same standard of care as urban women.”
Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport, noted that pro-life advocates across the country “have watched with interest what has happened in Iowa, hoping that this practice (webcam abortion) doesn’t become commonplace.”
The Board of Medicine ruled Aug. 30, 2013, that physicians must be physically present to dispense abortion-inducing pills. Prior to that decision, a pregnant client choosing to have an abortion could go to a facility in Iowa and meet with a physician by videoconference rather than in person. If the physician believed the client was a good candidate for a chemical or pill-induced abortion, the physician could remotely open a drawer to have abortion-inducing pills distributed by a clinic employee to the client at the clinic.
On Nov. 5, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Roman granted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request to stop the Board of Medicine’s decision from taking effect, pending a judicial review. The latest ruling, by Judge Farrell, upholds the authority of the Iowa Board of Medicine to ban webcam abortions.
Representatives of the Women’s Choice Center (WCC), a pregnancy help medical clinic based in Bettendorf, welcomed Judge Farrell’s decision. “We are grateful that this judge was guided by medical evidence, not politics or greed,” said Quad-Cities obstetrician Dr. Karla Polaschek, the WCC’s medical director. Vicki Tyler, the center’s executive director and CEO, said the judge’s ruling underscores a critical fact: “there isn’t a simple reset button that can ‘undo’ a pregnancy. Medical abortions are neither simple, nor safe.”
The WCC reported that the Board of Medicine voted to ban webcam abortions after hearing evidence from women who experienced complications after medical abortions, which involve taking two medications three days apart. Such abortions take at least three days to complete, much longer than a surgical abortion which is usually an outpatient surgical procedure. Eleven deaths have been reportedly linked to medical abortions, including five in the United States., the WCC said in its news release.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, meanwhile, plans to file an appeal, according to its website. “What is happening in Iowa is part of a dangerous trend: using any means necessary, politicians are imposing restrictions on abortion that will take safe and legal abortion away from women living in parts of the country where access to health care is already very limited,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It’s unacceptable and unconstitutional to deny safe care from women in need, which is why we are going directly to the state Supreme Court and fighting with everything we’ve got.”