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Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is being forced to surrender its profitable practice of prescribing abortion pills via webcam. First the state board of medicine banned it a year ago; then a district judge upheld that. Now Planned Parenthood is appealing to the state Supreme Court, claiming abortion is a right that has been lurking in the state constitution for over a century.

Much is at stake, Matt Heffron, a lawyer defending the board of medicine ruling, told LifeSiteNews. Iowa is serving as Planned Parenthood’s market and legal test case for the labor-saving, profitable, and dangerous practice of dispensing medical or “medication” abortions remotely. 

Heffron is working on the case for the Thomas More Society, a pro-life, pro-religious rights legal advocacy group headquartered in Chicago, which is acting as an amicus curiae or “friend of the court,” along with two other pro-life legal organizations. Advocating on Planned Parenthood’s behalf is, its habitual ally, the American Civil Liberties Union in the same capacity.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s chief operating officer Penny Dickey explained their case in a prepared statement thus: “While the board of medicine claims it is acting to protect women's safety and health, its true purpose is to prevent women from receiving an abortion if and when they need one.” And that is a right, claims PP, found always and everywhere in the Iowa constitution.

But wasn’t the right to abortion established long ago, in 1973, by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? Yes it was, says Heffron. “But Planned Parenthood doesn’t like how the Supreme Court has also allowed restrictions on the right to abortion. It is hoping it can get more rights and privileges under state constitutions.”

This case goes back to an 8-2 vote by the Iowa Board of Medicine in 2013 to ban web-cam abortions. These allow a Planned Parenthood doctor sitting in Des Moines to interview a woman by web camera, press a button that operates a dispenser at the remote clinic where she is located, giving her two bottles of pills. The first is RU-486, or Mifepristone, which the woman takes in front of the webcam and which kills the baby, and the second is Misoprostol, a drug the woman takes at home, which makes her body expel the dead child.

In making its own case against medication abortion, Iowa Right to Life cites a report by the Ohio Medical Board that in the previous 18 months in that state there had been 42 cases of complications arising from “medication” abortions including 35 incomplete abortions where the fetus was not expelled. As well, Iowa Right to Life reports, at least 11 women have died from medication abortions because of heart attack, infection and bleeding. It was enough for the board to rule medication abortions must be preceded and followed by physical examinations.

For the district court that heard Planned Parenthood’s appeal earlier this year, the main issue was whether the medical board had the right to ban the procedure for health reasons. Judge Jeffrey Farrell decided it did. “There is no question,” he declared, “that the board has the power to establish standards of practice for the medical profession.”

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are now arguing that “the rights of … abortion are recognized throughout the Iowa Constitution.”

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On the contrary, Heffron of the Thomas More Society is arguing, “The history and tradition of Iowa’s constitutional jurisprudence demonstrates that there is not a fundamental right to abortion. Abortion is not mentioned in the language of the Iowa Constitution nor in its constitutional debates.” What is more, “Neither the Iowa legislature nor the Iowa courts have ever recognized a right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution.” 

In fact, Iowa had a law banning abortion on its books for 120 years till struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. But Roe v. Wade, though it ruled out blanket prohibitions against abortion, has not prevented state legislatures from restricting abortion to protect women’s health.

Americans United for Life and the Alliance Defending Freedom also filed briefs defending the ban on webcam abortions. The ADF brief reported that medication abortions were far more dangerous than surgeries even without adding to the risk by prescribing them remotely. “The largest and most accurate study of medication abortions was published in 2009. It consists of a review of medical records from 22,368 women who underwent medication abortions…compared with 20,251 women who underwent surgical abortions.” It concluded that the “overall incidence of adverse events was fourfold higher” with medication abortions.

Why do webcam abortions at all? Planned Parenthood argues they improve access for women in rural Iowa. But they also provide them to women right in Des Moines, Iowa’s biggest city, pro-life groups counter, adding that the real motive is that they cost Planned Parenthood less than half what surgical abortions cost, but are priced the same, improving the abortion giant’s profit margin.

Heffron expects the state Supreme Court to rule quickly, before the New Year.


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