Iowa Right to Life seeks end to telemedicine abortions

More than 20,000 Iowans sign petition, organizers said

DES MOINES – Abortion opponents are asking the Iowa Board of Medicine to make adjustments in state policy that will end medical abortions using telemedicine in the state, according to a leader of the Iowa Right to Life organization.

Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, said Tuesday a group of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have submitted a petition to the board asking state regulators to “make adjustments in their guidance and rules to end webcam abortions in Iowa.” In a news release, Bowen said more than 20,000 Iowans signed the "Stop Webcam Abortions" petition.

Bowen said her group has worked since September 2008 to end medical abortions using telemedicine, contending Iowa law allows abortions to be performed only by licensed doctors but the telemedicine practice is conducted with no direct physician interaction, no doctor physically present, and often with no follow-up appointments.

She said her group has collected signatures from both pro-life and pro-choice Iowans who believe that women “deserve better care than what amounts to an impersonal, subpar, and dangerous system like webcam abortion,” according to an email distributed by Bowen. She said she hoped Iowa would join 14 other states that prohibit medical abortions using telemedicine.

Mark Bowden, executive director for the Iowa Board of Medicine said the board must give the petitioner 30 days to submit written views and make a decision to deny the petition or initiate rule-making proceedings within 60 days. He expected the issue would be on the agenda for the board’s meeting Thursday as an informational item but no action would be taken at that time.

Bowden said the board has regularly scheduled meetings Aug. 29-30 and Oct. 24-25, but might have to schedule a special meeting to address the issue raised by the petitioners.

At issue is a practice by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland whereby licensed physicians use a remote-controlled system to conduct medical assessments with patients in rural Iowa clinics. They are then able to dispense Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a pregnancy. Previously, the Iowa board declined to sanction a Planned Parenthood doctor who uses the system.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland leaders say the method is safe and legal and that opponents are looking for any excuse to limit women's access to abortion services.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to eliminate access to safe abortion,” Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement. “Extreme groups who created this petition are using false information to discredit a safe delivery system for medication abortion.

“Telemedicine is a safe, effective delivery system to expand access to health care for rural women who would have to travel long distances to see a doctor,” she added. “This advanced technology is the future for medical care in underserved rural communities. Additionally, numerous studies have proved that using tele-health services to deliver medication abortion is not only safe and effective, but highly acceptable among women.”

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, then-GOP candidate and now five-term GOP Gov. Terry Branstad said he believed using telemedicine to prescribe and dispense abortion-inducing pills is inappropriate and the practice should be discontinued in Iowa.

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