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Abortion pill ban gets panel approval

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A legislative panel approved a measure Wednesday that would ban the remote distribution of abortion pills, a proposal the bill’s sponsor said is intended to delay the procedure and give women more time to change their minds.

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The subcommittee voted 2-to-1 to prohibit the use of webcams or teleconferencing as a means of dispensing abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations. The two Republicans voted in favor and the one Democrat 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 to be taken 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, who sponsored the bill, said 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 is opposed to 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, saying it would create a challenge for rural Iowans with limited access to physicians.

“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 since abortion pills can only be used 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 timeframe. The bill severely restricts a woman’s access to the drug, she said, and surgical abortions would likely increase 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. These rules do not explicitly mention telecommunication services, but require the physical presence of a physician.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides abortion pills at 12 remote locations throughout Iowa, challenged the regulations, and a judge ruled the organization 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, and the bill could have difficulty passing in the Democratic-majority Senate.

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