New remote system to dispense abortion pill in Iowa draws fire from pro-life leaders

06 04 2010 JOhnson Pavone Abby Johnson / Priests for Life President Fr. Frank Pavone

A new remote-control abortion pill-dispensing system being used by Planned Parenthood in Iowa has come under fire from pro-life advocates who say the “telemed abortion” method kills unborn children, bypasses the doctor-patient relationship and risks the life and health of mothers.

“This is how far we have fallen. Drugs strong enough to kill and expel a baby are dispensed like aspirin,” commented Priests for Life President Fr. Frank Pavone in the National Catholic Register.

The remote system allows a Planned Parenthood physician from Des Moines to talk to each patient at another Planned Parenthood outlet by video conference, the Des Moines Register reports. The physician can then press a computer button to open a drawer in front of the patient to provide the abortion pills.
The physician, as many as 190 miles away from the patient, then remotely watches as she takes the first dose of the abortion drug.

Before the system is used, the prospective clinic patient who inquires about abortion is tested for pregnancy and given an ultrasound if pregnant. After counseling, patients are given information about the abortion pills and watch an eight-minute video about the drug and its possible side effects.

Patients are to return to the clinic two weeks after taking the drug for examination.

The Planned Parenthood video shows a re-enactment of a follow-up visit in which an actor in a white coat tells a woman portraying a patient “Well, you’re no longer pregnant.”

"That's great," the woman replies. "I really would like a baby sometime. But right now, we just can't afford it. I'm really glad we had this choice."

After watching the video, the prospective patient is asked whether she wants to obtain the drugs via the remote system. If she uses the system, the doctor goes over her medical history and discusses how the drugs work before sending the computer command to open the drawer with the abortion pills.

Pro-life advocates with Operation Rescue have filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Medicine, saying the practice violates a state law requiring abortions to be performed by a physician.

"Clearly it's unsafe for the unborn baby, but I think it also puts the mother's life at risk," said Troy Newman, national president of Operation Rescue. "And it's illegal. That's the bottom line."

Planned Parenthood physician Dr. Tom Ross, who uses the system, told the Register that it “absolutely” fulfills his legal obligation to oversee the abortion. He said he is confident the state board will approve the system, charging that the objecting group wants to create roadblocks to abortion access.

Ross also said he and others hope more physicians will offer the abortion drugs, but few doctors want to do so. This reluctance is one motive for the new video conference system.

Planned Parenthood told the Register it had hired an independent researcher to survey 400 patients, half of whom used the system and half of whom had face-to-face meetings with a doctor. In the first group, 94 percent were “very satisfied” with the experience, compared to 88 percent in the latter group.

Fr. Frank Pavone said the remote system is evidence that “the abortion industry is frantically trying to make up for the lack of staff willing to perform abortions.”  “…doctors who have too much of a conscience to kill children with forceps are proving to have too much of a conscience to kill them with pills,” he wrote in the National Catholic Register, encouraging pro-lifers to “keep sounding the alarm.”

Another critic of the system was Abby Johnson, a former clinic director of a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate who became pro-life after witnessing an abortion.

“Even when I was a 2008 Planned Parenthood ‘employee of the year,’ I thought this system sounded risky,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the Iowa Gazette.

She charged that Planned Parenthood is certain to downplay the risks because “abortion is the organization’s biggest moneymaker.”

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The abortion pill RU-486 is “far from risk-free,” she commented, noting that at least six U.S. women have died from the pill in the past five years.

The teleconferencing scheme, in her view, “completely bypasses the foundational in-person, doctor-patient relationship that is necessary for real health care.” Noting the rural nature of many of Planned Parenthood’s Iowa facilities, she said it was “downright scary” to think of what will happen to women who suffer complications from the abortion drugs.

According to Johnson, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has spoken “glowingly” of the telemed abortions and has indicated plans to roll out the system nationwide.

Johnson closed her Gazette essay by calling on the Iowa Board of Medicine and the FDA to take immediate action to halt the telemed abortions, also urging Iowans to demand a stop to state taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

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