- The Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc. and Dr. Jill Meadows v. Iowa Board of Medicine, a case which will determine whether the state will permit abortions through telemedicine. Physicians consult with patients via videoconferencing, then a nurse or medical assistant perform a physical exam and administer medications released via a remote-controlled drawer.
- The Iowa Board of Medicine voted in 2013 that abortion-inducing drugs must be physically administered by a physician; Planned Parenthood argues that this rule limits women's access to abortions.
- Some experts say the ruling could set a precedent for how much authority state medical boards can exercise over the regulation of telemedicine.
Nathaniel Lacktman, a partner with Foley & Lardner, said that a ruling in favor of the state medical board could open the door for further restriction of telemedicine by that body in the future—both in Iowa and in other states.
"If the court rules against Planned Parenthood, it may cause other states to look at their state boards of medicine as the vehicle for greater influence on telemedicine, especially for [using] it for abortions," Lacktman said. "It could open the door to people exploring it as an opportunity to achieve some of their political ends in a way that may be quicker or easier than the full-on legislative process of their state."
Not unlike the Hobby Lobby debate, this is a case that is so steeped in divisive politics that it's difficult to get at what it's really about: telemedicine, and what constitutes an appropriate physician-patient relationship. But not everyone believes that a ruling against Planned Parenthood will provide a vehicle for the restriction of the practice. Rene Quashie, senior counsel with law firm Epstein Becker Green, believes that the fact that the case centers on abortion will make it an outlier in conversations about telemedicine expansion, not a precedent.
"I think this case is much more about abortion politics than it is about telemedicine, especially given the fact the state of Iowa saw fit to really expand their telemedicine regulations," Quashie told Modern Healthcare.