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NRL News
Page 12
June 2010
Volume 37
Issue 6

Planned Parenthood using telemedicine to do abortions in Iowa
Between a Woman and Her Monitor

By Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

It was long suspected, but recent press reports have confirmed that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, one of the national organization’s Iowa affiliates, has been facilitating chemical abortions via telemedicine since July 2008. This first of its kind in the nation system is supposed to make it possible for women in remote areas to obtain abortions without ever having to actually physically meet a doctor.

About 1,500 women have used the video conferencing system for abortion so far. Other abortionists are taking a close look at the project and Planned Parenthood expects other states to follow in offering telemedicine abortions soon (Des Moines Register, 5/16/10;, 5/19/10). Sixteen of PP Heartland’s 19 clinics offer these telemedicine abortions.

How does this work? Planned Parenthood tells the Register that a woman comes in and takes a pregnancy test at the clinic and then, if the test comes back positive, has an ultrasound. The images are sent electronically to the doctor in another city.

Clinic staff counsel the woman about her options, give her printed information about the abortion pill, and then have her watch an eight-minute video prepared by Planned Parenthood (see

The video talks about the abortion process and side effects such as cramping and bleeding, but tells women these are similar to what is experienced in a “heavy period.” She is assured that the procedure is safe. Then the video offers a re-enactment of a follow up visit two weeks later. In it the clinicians tell the woman she is not pregnant anymore and she responds, “That’s great. 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 woman is asked if she’d like to obtain the drugs using an electronic conferencing system. If she says yes, she is seated at a desk in front of a computer monitor with a camera where she can teleconference with the doctor, who could be as many as 190 miles away.

The doctor goes over her medical history and talks to her about the pills she will be taking and how they will work. After giving her a chance to ask questions, the doctor enters a command on a computer keyboard and a drawer in the desk where the woman is seated opens to reveal two bottles of pills.

The first contains mifepristone, which she is instructed to take in the office while the doctor observes via the monitor. It will starve the child over the next couple of days. The second set of pills, which she is given to take later at home, are misoprostol, a prostaglandin that will stimulate powerful uterine contractions to dislodge and expel the tiny corpse.

Women are told in the video that they should feel normal a day after taking the misoprostol at home. If they are not, or if they are experiencing other problems, they are told to call Planned Parenthood’s 24-hour hotline.

Planned Parenthood tells women the drugs are “safe and effective.” There is no mention on the video or on the web site that at least 11 women are known to have died after taking the dangerous drugs or that at least a thousand women have suffered serious complications.

Nor does the video tell them that women have bled to death or that hundreds of women have hemorrhaged and required emergency medical care. Women are given something to help manage pain and told of other side effects like diarrhea and vomiting, but the video does not say that these have put women in the hospital.

Planned Parenthood mentions the possibility of infections, but the video does not explain how the symptoms of these are hard to distinguish from the bleeding, cramping, and gastrointestinal distress that often accompanies these abortions. They are told to contact Planned Parenthood if they have a fever, but the deadly infection that killed many of these women often comes without a fever.

Of course, women can call Planned Parenthood if they have a problem, but exactly what are they to do when the doctor is a couple of hundred miles away? Even if she makes it to a nearby emergency room, doctors there may be unfamiliar with the chemical abortion process or its risks or complications.

Even if they are fortunate enough to avoid hemorrhage or infection, for a certain percentage of women, these pills do not work. These women, if they are still determined to abort, will face a surgical procedure. Is Planned Parenthood expecting women from these rural areas to travel to Des Moines to complete their abortions?

Telemedicine abortions generate buzz and open up a whole new customer base in locations where Planned Parenthood can’t afford to post an abortionist. It gives some of their smaller offices a chance to bring in a very profitable product without having to make a lot of changes or buy a whole lot of new equipment.

If there are problems, they become other people’s problems, because there is no doctor and the clinic isn’t equipped to do surgery or handle some of the more serious complications.

Chemical abortions, even in locations where there is a live doctor present, are a much neater, cleaner enterprise—for the clinic, at least. Though women bleed profusely and cramp violently and pass the child’s emaciated body, they generally do so at home, not the clinic.

Planned Parenthood’s Iowa affiliate participated in U.S. clinical trials of RU486 and was one of the early adopters of the method after its approval in September of 2000. And the numbers show the impact.

According to Iowa Right to Life, Planned Parenthood did nearly 2,000 more abortions in 2008 than in 2002 (4,492 versus 2,898), and chemical abortions in 2008 exceeded surgical ones (2,582 abortions with RU486, against 2,210 surgical abortions).

Those numbers will certainly get worse with the advent of telechemical abortions.

The illusion of an abortion decision made “between a woman and her doctor,” her concerned personal physician, is shattered by the new telechemical abortion. Now, a woman’s life is in the hands of a person she never meets and the death sentence of her child is handed down when a distant doctor who, miles away, merely clicks a button.

This isn’t progress. It’s one of those science fiction horror films.