Aug. 23, 2010 — The antiabortion-rights group Operation Rescue is requesting that the Iowa Board of Medicine prohibit Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from dispensing medical abortion pills to patients in rural Iowa communities through a telemedicine network, the Des Moines Register reports (Petroski, Des Moines Register, 8/20). In a letter to the board on Friday, Operation Rescue, Iowans for LIFE and about 60 other antiabortion-rights groups and individuals said they believe the practice is dangerous to women's health (Petroski, Des Moines Register, 8/21).
In addition, Operation Rescue officials said Thursday that they have filed complaints with county attorneys in 10 Iowa counties, alleging that the telemedicine system violates a state law that requires abortion procedures to be performed by physicians. In June, the group asked Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D) to open a criminal investigation of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Miller's chief of staff said last week that such matters are under the jurisdiction of county attorneys.
The telemedicine system -- the first of its kind in the U.S. -- 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 then takes the first dose of the medication while the physician watches.
More than 1,500 women have accessed medical abortion through the system. Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said Operation Rescue is concerned about women's access to abortion, not the use of telemedicine. "Our telemedicine program was thoroughly researched to meet all legal requirements before we implemented," she added.
The medical board is meeting in October to review materials related to a broad range of applications and practices related to telemedicine. The board's current policy statement on telemedicine was adopted in the 1990s (Des Moines Register, 8/20).