Iowa Legislative Committee refuses to delay new rule on “Web-Cam” abortions

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. Tom Ross, who works for Planned Parenthood, demonstrates the agency's telemedicine system from an office near downtown Des Moines.   Tony Leys/The Register

Dr. Tom Ross, who works for Planned Parenthood, demonstrates the agency’s telemedicine system from an office near downtown Des Moines.
Tony Leys/The Register

Although the vote Monday by the Iowa Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee was not unexpected, the decision to reject Planned Parenthood of the Heartland request to delay a new rule on so-called “web-cam” abortions was not only encouraging but represented the last challenge outside of the courts.

The Administrative Rules Review Committee is a bipartisan panel of both houses of the Legislature that has oversight of the agency rulemaking process. The 5-4 vote followed a 54-minute hearing.

The vote means, absent quick action on PPH’s lawsuit, that abortionists will be required as of November 6 to be in the presence of women rather than communicating with them via teleconferencing—which is at the heart of so-called “web-cam” abortions.

PPH, a massive and ever-growing Planned Parenthood affiliate, filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court October 3 for judicial review of the changed made in late August by the Iowa Board of Medicine.

PPH also asked the court to issue a motion for a stay that would render the rule “to be ineffective during litigation.”

As reported in National Right to Life News Today the new rules mandate that physicians prescribing the abortion pill conduct a physical examination of the woman, be physically present when the powerful abortifacient drug is provided, and schedule a follow up to confirm completion of the abortion and evaluate the woman’s medical condition. This is decidedly not how web-cam abortions are currently performed in Iowa.

Responding to public concerns expressed in an Iowa Right to Life petition signed by 20,000 Iowans, and a formal petition presented by 14 Iowa medical professionals challenging the safety of web-cam abortions, the Iowa Board of Medicine met June 28, 2013, to consider new rules to govern the practice. The August 28 meeting, which lasted 3 ½ hours, was to give the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed new rules. The new rules were adopted a few days later on an 8-2 vote.

Representatives of Planned Parenthood argued that the web-cam system was safe and effective and called the new rules “unwarranted, unnecessary,” and “restrictive.” But the more the board probed, the more they found evidence of troubling practices with regard to chemical abortions, web-cam and otherwise, at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, such as exams performed not by doctors or nurses, but by minimally trained assistants.

According to the Quad Cities Times, PPH “has 15 affiliated clinics that have used the telemedicine system since 2008 and have dispensed at least 3,000 pills since 2010.” More specifically the “birth” of the web-cam abortion came in July of 2008, when PPH began offering them at many of their smaller clinics scattered around Iowa.

Telemedicine can be traced all the way back to the days of the space program as a way to treat astronauts far from any doctor’s office. Used properly it offers a real benefit to those needing immediate emergency medical care that can’t get to the hospital right away or to location bound people whose chronic conditions can be treated remotely.

As did the Quad Cities Times article, supporters of web-cam abortions said yesterday that it was just a subset of telemedicine. If you no objections to using telemedicine for legitimate medicine, you ought not to be bothered by having it employed to kill the unborn—or so the illogical argument goes.

Beyond the vote itself, the most significant development Monday was the opposition to the new rule from The Iowa Medical Society which said (according to the Des Moines Register) that the medical board’s decision to adopt the rule was “not credible.”. No doubt PPH will use that as leverage in its lawsuit.

However as NRLC’s Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon explained in great detail ((see “Iowa Board of Medicine considering new rules governing web-cam abortions”), there are serious questions about the safety of web-cam abortions.

In recent articles on the rule change, PPH told reporters it has had no complaints among the 3,000 plus women who used the web-cam system since the program began in 2008. However this does not tell us much about the number or nature of the problems women faced. (The same affiliate had a patient who nearly bled to death in tests of the abortion pill back in the mid-1990s, but told the press that the trial had ended with “no complications” among the 238 women participating.)

An April 30, 2011, FDA “Mifepristone U.S. Postmarketing Adverse Events Summary” found more than 2,200 “adverse events” associated with use of the abortion drugs, including 14 women in the U.S. who died. Women taking the drug were hospitalized with ruptured ectopic pregnancies, blood loss requiring transfusions, and infections that proved deadly in at least seven cases. This is much more serious than simply taking an aspirin suggested by a nurse over the phone.

“Given what we know about the all too real dangers of chemical abortions for both their intended and unintended victims, no one should be doing them, but least of all, some video doctor from hundreds of miles away who has never physically examined his patient and won’t be anywhere near if something goes wrong,” Dr. O’Bannon told NRL News Today..

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