DES MOINES (AP) — A legislative panel approved a measure Wednesday that would ban the remote distribution of abortion-inducing pills, a proposal the bill's sponsor said is intended to delay the procedure and give women more time to change their minds.
The subcommittee voted 2-1 to prohibit the use of webcams or teleconferencing as a means of dispensing the drugs that can be taken only in the first weeks of pregnancy to patients who live in remote locations. The two Republicans voted in favor. The one Democrat on the panel was opposed. The bill now moves to the House Human Resources Committee.
The bill would require that women seeking an abortion be in the presence of a physician when receiving the pills. It also outlines disciplinary procedures should a physician violate the terms of the bill, which can include the revocation of a doctor's license.
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, the bill's sponsor, said that if women don't have immediate access to an abortion-inducing drug, he hopes more might consider carrying a pregnancy to term.
“If that mother is now unable to go and get a webcam abortion, maybe it'll give her a little bit more time to think about it,” Windschitl said. “That would be my hope.”
Windschitl opposes abortion rights, but he said it's not his intention to limit health care access.
“I'm not trying to restrict women's access to health care,” he said. “I'm not trying to take away a right that the Supreme Court found in 1973. There's no way that you can fully legislate away abortion, and I fully respect that. It's about changing hearts and minds.”
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschall, D-Ames, opposed the bill. She said it would create difficulties for rural Iowans with limited access to doctors.
“This does put women who don't have access to in-person medical care at risk for a more invasive procedure at a later term,” she said.
Erin Davison-Rippey, a Planned Parenthood of the Heartland lobbyist, said that since abortion pills can be used only during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, it would be difficult for some women to travel a long distance to see a doctor in person within that time. The bill severely restricts a woman's access to the drug, she said, and the state would likely see an increase in surgical abortions as a result.
“In a rural state like Iowa, telemedicine ensures that Iowans have access to health care regardless of their geographical location,” she said.
The Iowa Board of Medicine last summer adopted rules regarding the administration of abortion pills that were set to go into effect in November. The rules do not explicitly mention medical services via telecommunications but require the physical presence of a physician.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides abortion pills in coordination with physicians at 12 remote locations across Iowa, challenged the regulations, and a judge ruled it could keep using video conferencing to distribute the drugs until the matter is resolved by the courts.
Planned Parenthood became the first organization to implement such a system when it began the program in 2008.
Similar legislation stalled last year. The new proposal could have difficulty in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
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