Anti-abortion Activists Contest Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s Telemedicine Program

Last month, we discussed the medical abortion pill’s progress ten years after its FDA approval and noted that its approval hadn’t increased access to abortion as much as women’s health advocates had hoped. The Guttmacher Institute tells us that women in areas that already have surgical abortion access have an additional option, but for women in areas with limited or no surgical abortion access, mifepristone is not easily obtained either.

This is where telemedicine comes in, specifically the one run by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa. The Women’s Health Policy Report describes the procedure as follows:

The telemedicine system allows Des Moines-based physicians to conduct video consultations with patients in rural clinics who are seeking abortion services and are no more than nine weeks pregnant. If a physician decides that a patient is an appropriate candidate for a medical abortion, he or she can use a computer command to remotely open a drawer in front of the patient. The patient removes the medication from the drawer and takes the first dose while the physician watches.

The service has increased access in rural areas where women are otherwise less likely to receive abortion services, but it’s now under threat of discontinuation. The Iowa Board of Medicine is considering changing its telemedicine policy due to a dozen anti-abortion activists who spoke out a public comment session last week. Iowa Right to Life Executive Director Jenifer Bowen presented a petition titled “Stop Web-cam Abortions in Iowa” that contains 3,900 signatures of those opposed to the telemedicine service.

According to the Women’s Health Policy Report, anti-abortion activists claim the service violates an Iowa law requiring that abortions be performed by a physician. However, Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the program’s legality was thoroughly researched.

The future of the telemedicine program hangs in the balance, but both sides of the debate acknowledge that the issue at hand is the right to abortion, rather than the procedure itself. Anti-abortion activists are rallying against the procedure as part of the larger agenda to ban abortion altogether. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine system is the first in the United States, and has assisted more than 1,500 women. The Des Moines Register says an update is expected at the Iowa Board of Medicine’s meeting in December.

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