Iowa board to hear views on abortion pill system

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Board of Medicine will listen to public testimony Wednesday on whether the state should bar the practice of distributing abortion-inducing pills via a video conferencing system.

Activists are seeking to halt a long-distance video system used by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. It lets doctors deliver pills to patients in 15 clinics around Iowa after a video consultation. The organization has used the system in Iowa since 2008 and has dispensed the pills at least 3,000 times since 2010, said Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Opponents of this practice say it is dangerous for the women involved. But June said she’s not aware of any complaints since her organization started offering the service. The Board of Medicine has not received any complaints from patients, said Mark Bowden, the board’s executive director.

Iowa Right to Life’s executive director, Jenifer Bowen, said patients are often afraid to speak out. She said these abortions are risky for patients because they don’t meet personally with doctors and may not get necessary follow-up care.

“We’re always as concerned for the woman seeking an abortion as we are for the baby,” said Bowen, whose organization submitted petitions with more than 20,000 signatures to the board to ban the practice. “It’s very concerning to us because of the lack of safety that there is in chemical abortions. There are statistically higher complication rates.”

June said opponents are trying to create barriers to abortion access in Iowa. She said this video system, the first of its kind in the nation, helps poor women in rural Iowa.

“They have trumped up these false claims that telemedicine is dangerous. They don’t attack any other forms of telemedicine. There are high-risk drugs provided using telemedicine in Iowa, but this drug is not one of those,” June said. “People who oppose legal abortion attacked this program as soon as they found out about it.”

A group of doctors petitioned the board in June to ban the practice. At a meeting that month, the board voted 8-2 to initiate a process to determine whether to establish state guidelines to end the so-called “webcam abortions.” The public hearing is the next step and the earliest the board could adopt new rules barring the practice would be at a meeting Friday.

Efforts to bar telemedicine abortions have failed in the state Legislature. Opponents petitioned the Board of Medicine to halt the practice in 2010, but the board never took a public action. Since then, the board’s membership has changed and it is now made up of appointees from Gov. Terry Branstad, who opposes abortion rights.

A spokesman for Branstad says he has concerns about the video conferencing practice.

“The governor shares the concerns brought forward by those in the medical community concerning webcam abortions, and believes a serious, thoughtful and open discussion needs to occur as to whether women are receiving an adequate standard of care when undergoing this procedure,” spokesman Tim Albrecht said.

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