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Death by webcam

"Death by webcam" Continued...

Issue: "Roe v. Wade turns 40," Jan. 26, 2013

Laws effectively prohibiting telemed abortions are in place in Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Michigan. Others are enduring court challenges in Wisconsin, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Ohio.

Although Iowa legislators have failed to pass a ban, Iowa Right to Life executive director Jenifer Bowen said her organization would make it a top priority in 2013. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is “sitting with pen in hand waiting to support us,” she said.

By 2010 Planned Parenthood said it had performed at least 2,000 webcam abortions in Iowa. According to a study published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, rural women in Iowa became more likely to obtain abortions after the telemed scheme was launched.

Outside of Iowa, it appears the only other place where Planned Parenthood has introduced webcam abortions is in Rochester, Minn. Bill Poehler, communications director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said he expects the abortion provider to try expanding the telemed procedure across the state.

“Planned Parenthood had intended to spread this plan for telemed abortions to its affiliates throughout the nation,” said Mailee Smith, a staff attorney at Americans United for Life.

AUL is hoping to head off any such plan: It has written six pages of model legislation outlawing telemed abortions, named the “Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act.” Three of the states already banning the procedure adopted all or portions of AUL’s model, and Smith said other states are considering doing so in 2013, though she couldn’t comment on which ones.

The model addresses a major concern Smith and others have: Planned Parenthood’s doctors, in prescribing the RU-486 regimen, don’t even comply with FDA approved guidelines for administering the first drug, mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex). Although the Mifeprex label requires the woman to be no more than 49 days pregnant, and to return to the doctor’s office for the second drug dose (misoprostol) two days later, Planned Parenthood prescribes the tablets to women up to 63 days pregnant, and sends them home to take the second dose, which initiates contractions.

“Women would take these pills without fully understanding that they would probably be seeing a little, tiny baby at home, alone, in their bathroom,” says Thayer. “I remember at least a couple of other managers in the Planned Parenthood affiliate that I worked at, [who] said they would have women come back in with this little baby in a Ziploc bag.”

Legally, doctors can prescribe drugs off label, but in the case of Mifeprex, ignoring FDA warnings could increase the chance of a dangerous complication. The FDA hasn’t studied the safety of the drugs in girls under the age of 18, yet Planned Parenthood routinely offers it to them. In one study of women who used the abortion pill, 1 out of every 13 required follow-up surgery to treat prolonged bleeding or to abort their baby surgically after RU-486 failed to do so. When the abortion pill fails to kill the baby, there is a risk of fetal defects because of the drug’s effect.

The FDA warns that all women who use RU-486 experience bleeding for nine to 16 days afterward, and women with heavy bleeding will need emergency medical care. When Planned Parenthood performs medical abortions in Iowa over webcam, however, there’s no physician with the woman to give advice in such a situation. From the time the RU-486 regimen was approved in September 2000 to April 2011, at least 612 women had to be hospitalized after taking the drugs, with most of them requiring blood transfusions. Eight RU-486 users died after developing sepsis, blood poisoning caused by an infection of microorganisms.

Iowa Planned Parenthood executives like to say telemedicine allows them to offer their so-called healthcare services to more women, said Smith of AUL: “In reality what telemed abortion is doing is allowing them to increase their profit. It is not safe for women.”

Thayer, who today works as a post-adoption support specialist with Lutheran Services in Iowa, isn’t against telemedicine in general. As a longtime foster parent (she’s taken in at least 130 children and adopted three) Thayer has driven teens to a clinic to have webcam interviews with a pediatric psychiatrist, who prescribed medication after asking questions about feelings and symptoms. That’s much different than prescribing abortion via webcam, she says.

After alerting a few people in Storm Lake to the telemed abortions that were happening at the Planned Parenthood center there, Thayer decided to lead a 40 Days for Life campaign in the fall of 2011. With a little over 10,000 residents, Storm Lake isn’t a huge community, but enough people joined in the effort—both Catholics and Protestants—that they were able to conduct a prayer vigil for 480 collective hours.

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