DES MOINES — Supporters of medication abortions and the members of the Iowa Board of Medicine quarreled during a contentious, half-day public hearing Wednesday over administrative rules that, if adopted, would effectively stop the practice in the state.
Telemedicine allows doctors deliver pills to patients in 15 Iowa Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics after a video consultation. Planned Parenthood has used the system in Iowa since 2008 and has dispensed at least 3,000 pills since 2010.
At issue is a proposed rule that would require a physician to have an in-person exam with a woman who wants to have a chemical abortion. The rule also requires a physician to be present when the abortion is induced and for a follow-up examination.
Opponents of the proposed rules say they would make it difficult for women in rural parts of the state to access abortion services. Proponents argued that telemedicine abortion patients are more at risk than those who use the drugs under the direct care of a doctor.
“I’d be happy to answer further questions, but I won’t continue to be badgered,” said Daniel Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health and a doctor at the University of California at San Francisco, said after a particularly tense go-around with Board of Medicine Chairman Greg Hoversten. Grossman was one of about 30 people who spoke at the forum.
The hearing was held in a small auditorium in the Wallace state building, about 500 yards northwest of the state Capitol. Before the meeting, activists on both sides of the argument held events.
The group Progress Iowa joined with labor unions and One Iowa for a rally in the Statehouse rotunda that was attended by roughly 80 people, including Democratic candidate for governor, state Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, and a likely primary opponent of Olson’s, state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines.
Both criticized Gov. Terry Branstad, saying he was meddling in a woman’s right to choose through his appointments to the Board of Medicine, but the biggest applause line was for state Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who said Iowans elected a governor “not a gynecologist.”
An anti-abortion prayer vigil was held at the same time at nearby Calvary Baptist Church. Some of the members of that group brought a 5-foot by 12-foot banner to the rally that read, “We are the pro-life generation.”
Another heated exchange erupted between Board of Medicine member and West Des Moines doctor Bob Bender and Robert Shaw, a pediatrician and Planned Parenthood board member.
Bender repeatedly asked Shaw if he would make decisions based off a patient examination conducted by a certified medical assistant, which was something that may happen during telemedicine conferences.
Shaw called the question “irrelevant.”
Bender persisted for several minutes despite Shaw’s protests.
“We can continue this in the hall at 4:30,” Shaw finally told Bender with an exasperated tone.
By contrast, there were few questions from the board for the speakers who supported the proposed rule changes.
The board is scheduled to meet Friday and is expected to take up the proposed rules then. If the rules are adopted, they would be published and take effect 35 days after their first publication.
“Every time we meet, we remind each other that — and this is our premise — that I have to divest myself of my personal interests and as the chair of the board, decide and work with the board on deciding issues aside from my personal opinion,” Hoversten, who is anti-abortion, said to reporters after the hearing broke up. “The 10 of us are going to make a decision on these rules.”