Judge dismisses Idaho lawsuit over telemedicine abortion ban

May 12th, 2017 | By | Category: Health care

By Kimberlee Kruesi /Associated Press

DoctorBOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging two anti-abortion laws in Idaho now that lawmakers have repealed the targeted statutes.

In 2015, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands sued the state over two newly enacted bans that prohibited women from receiving abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine. Planned Parenthood argued that the laws placed unnecessary burdens on women seeking safe abortions.

However, the lawsuit was put on hold after U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed to give lawmakers time during the 2017 session to repeal the contested statutes. Republican lawmakers begrudgingly complied, and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the repeal legislation on April 4. Had lawmakers refused to repeal the laws, Winmill said he would have ruled them unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Winmill dismissed the case Tuesday, ordering that each party pay their own attorney and legal fees.

“The bottom line is that the laws should have never been passed,” said Mistie Tolman, legislative director for Planned Parenthood. “The fact that (these laws) even existed shows a coordinated effort to restrict health care to women in Idaho.”

The organization’s lawsuit was directed at two laws.

The first required doctors to be present when administering pregnancy-ending pills rather than do so via telemedicine. The practice allows doctors to consult with patients or review medical records remotely, using a computer or telephone connection. While it’s become a popular method for treating patients, particularly in rural areas, the practice of dispensing abortion-inducing medication with telemedicine is still a new concept.

The second law — sponsored by former House Minority Leader John Rusche, a Democrat from Lewiston — outlined acceptable telemedicine practices in Idaho but included a strict one-line sentence banning doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs remotely. The law allows other forms of medical procedures without a doctor’s presence.

This year’s repeal effort marks one of the few times when lawmakers have loosened abortion laws in Idaho rather than tightening them. No other abortion bill was passed during the 2017 legislative session.

Planned Parenthood won a similar lawsuit in 2015 when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a restriction that would have prevented doctors from administering medication abortions, saying the rule would have placed an unconstitutional burden on women by requiring a doctor’s physical presence in the room.

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