New “Telemed Abortion” Procedure Endangers Women

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A recent undercover investigation by a leading pro-life group has found a disturbing and potentially illegal new trend in 12 Iowa abortion clinics where patients are prescribed RU-486 after engaging in a teleconference with an abortionist.

According to a report by Operation Rescue, medical or chemical abortions are offered in 16 clinics throughout Iowa, but only four of the clinics actually have doctors. The other 12 clinics make up for the lack of doctors by using the telemed abortion procedure.

“A telemed abortion is abortion via a teleconferencing service similar to ‘Skype,’” they describe in their report. “Patients are put in a room where an off-site abortionist appears on a computer monitor and explains the medical abortion procedure to them over an Internet hook-up. After the brief teleconference, the dangerous abortion drug RU486, also known as Mifepristone, and its counterpart, Methotrexate, are prescribed. The drugs are then administered to the patient by a nurse or ‘clinician’ who may or may not be licensed. The patient presses a button an on computer screen that opens a box containing the abortion drugs. The patient is never physically examined by the medical doctor prescribing the drugs – or any other, for that matter – and never sees the abortionist again.”

The state of Iowa requires that abortions, including those procured by chemical means, be performed by “licensed physicians.”

This level of care is needed because chemical abortions are risky. They take days to complete, can be very painful, and involve heavy bleeding and cramping until the pre-born baby is expelled.

As many as 13 women are believed to have died after taking RU-486, many of them due to infections caused by incomplete abortions. Other serious complications have been reported in at least 1,000 other cases. This prompted the FDA to require stronger warning labels on the drug in 2004.

However, as Operation Rescue reports, the only follow-up being offered by Planned Parenthood clinics involved in telemed abortions is a recommended appointment in “two or three weeks” after the abortion where a second ultrasound is offered to make sure the “pregnancy no longer exists.”

“This follow-up care is completely inadequate,” Operation Rescue reports. “If tissue from the pregnancy is retained, that presents a risk of infection to the woman that could kill her, especially if care is delayed 2-3 weeks.”

Another problem is that some of the “nurses” who are administering the drugs at the clinics after the teleconference takes place are not licensed professionals.

“Most of the time we found out that these are just women with no medical training whatsoever, and they don’t have any licenses at all,” says Cheryl Sullinger, Senior Policy Advisor at Operation Rescue. “They just refer to them as ‘nurses’ without them actually being licensed or having any medical training.”

In addition, Operation Rescue has evidence that Planned Parenthood in Iowa charges insurance companies $1,000 for these doctor-less medical abortions – the highest in the nation by far – even though their overhead costs are much less than other clinics that have a licensed physician on site. Women who pay cash for the same procedure are charged $500, half the amount insurance companies must pay. 
This overbilling effectively drives up the cost of health insurance for everyone.

“Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is making a killing on medical abortions,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “Planned Parenthood is gouging insurance companies twice the price of their cash abortions. That’s how they can afford to keep their smaller clinics running.
“And if taxpayers are forced to fund these abortions, there’s no telling how much they will charge, because government funding is a blank check.”

Newman says the risks involved in the telemed abortion scheme are completely unacceptable.

“The lack of access to a licensed physician throughout this risky and painful abortion process is shocking, and likely illegal.  Money obviously means more to Planned Parenthood than the lives and safety of women.”

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