The Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8-2 on Friday to ban Planned Parenthood’s practice of providing medical abortions in the state by webcam. The vote is a victory for pro-life advocates, who have long warned that so-called telemed abortions are unsafe for women.
“I am just standing in awe!” wrote Sue Thayer, who had testified in favor of the ban, in an email to pro-life supporters on Friday. “God is just so good, so big and so in control!”
Thayer, a former Planned Parenthood employee, was fired several years ago after she resisted offering telemed abortions at the rural facility she managed in Storm Lake, Iowa. She has since become a pro-life activist.
WORLD reported about Iowa’s telemed abortion scheme in January. As a way of reducing travel expenses, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland devised a way to provide prescriptions of the RU-486 abortion pill regimen to pregnant women at its rural Iowa facilities: An abortionist in Des Moines could simply log into a video conference system connected to a rural Planned Parenthood center, ask the woman a few questions, then press a button to remotely unlock a drawer containing the set of abortion pills. Women were expected to take the first drug at the rural facility, and then take a second drug to complete their abortions at home, alone. More than 3,000 women in Iowa have undergone abortions in this way.
“How can any of us possibly find that a medical abortion performed over the internet is as safe as one provided by a physician in person?” said Iowa Board of Medicine chairman Greg Hoversten at the hearing last week, according The Des Moines Register. “The woman essentially goes home and labors and delivers a fetus. … It’s very bloody. It’s painful. There’s cramping, pelvic cramping.”
From the time the Food and Drug Administration approved RU-486 in September 2000 to April 2011, at least 612 women who took the pills had to be hospitalized, with most requiring blood transfusions because of heavy bleeding. Eight RU-486 users died after developing sepsis, blood poisoning caused by an infection of microorganisms. Planned Parenthood also prescribes the pills “off label,” selling them to women with pregnancies up to 63 days of gestation, although the FDA only approved their use up through 49 days.
When Planned Parenthood of the Heartland first told facility managers about its plan to launch telemed abortions in Iowa during a mid-2007 meeting, President Jill June asked staff to keep the initiative a secret. Thayer, who was still working for Planned Parenthood at the time, asked administrators whether they would at least inform local doctors of the plan. They said, “No, absolutely not.” They wanted to perform the remote medical procedure 500 to 1,000 times before word got out about the unusual practice.
But Friday, the Iowa Board of Medicine decided telemed abortions were too unusual. Responding to a petition from 14 healthcare providers, the board approved proposed regulations that will effectively end Planned Parenthood’s webcam abortions. Pro-life advocates have been unable to pass a telemed abortion ban through the Iowa legislature.
The board’s decision is a reversal of its position on telemed abortions in 2011, when it reviewed the practice and determined it to be acceptable. Since then, Gov. Terry Branstad, who is pro-life, has appointed new members to all 10 of the board seats.
Jill June, who attended the hearing, wouldn’t tell reporters whether her organization would appeal the board’s decision. Barring an appeal, the ban will take effect as early as November.
Thayer told supporters she was confident the ban would decrease abortions in Iowa. “During my years at PP, I remember women that wanted an abortion but couldn’t find transportation to Sioux City or Des Moines. Consequently, they gave birth. … And these women love their children and are so thankful they didn’t have immediate access to a car.”
With telemed abortions in Iowa defeated, Thayer told me by email she’ll be able to focus on expanding a new pregnancy resource center, Cornerstone for Life, in Storm Lake, the same town where she managed a Planned Parenthood center years ago.
“On a larger scale, Minnesota is the only state left doing webcam abortion, so [we’ll] turn prayers and efforts [in] that direction,” she said.