Iowa Supreme Court Considers Legality of Webcam Abortions

By Cheryl Sullenger

Des Moines, IA — The Iowa Supreme Court took up the issue of webcam abortions this morning during a hearing that revealed much about Planned Parenthood’s willingness to conceal the dangers of the remote abortion pill distribution scheme, first made public by Operation Rescue in 2010.

As the person who filed the original complaint against webcam abortions in 2010 after we conducted an investigation and published an expose’ on the process, I was glad to be able to attend today’s hearing.

The focus of today’s hearing involved a 2013 Iowa Board of Medicine decision to issue standards that require a physician to personally examine a patient prior to dispensing abortion pills. This effectively banned Planned Parenthood’s remote dispensing system. An abortionist in Des Moines can briefly visit with a patient via an internet video conferencing system where, with the push of a button, the abortionist can open a drawer at an outlying clinic containing abortion pills for women to take. The Board ruled that this practice violated the standard of patient care. Planned Parenthood immediately challenged that decision in court.

Planned Parenthood told the seven-justice panel that since 2008, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland had done 7,000 abortions using the experimental webcam distribution process, there has been no safety concerns. It claimed that the Iowa Board of Medicine did not base its decision to ban the process on medicine.

Most disturbingly, however, was Planned Parenthood’s request that the Iowa Supreme Court rule that abortion is protected by the Iowa Constitution, which does not specifically address abortion.

“The Court would have to read something that just isn’t there in order to find that abortion is a protected right in the Iowa Constitution,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

In 2010, Operation Rescue staff filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Medicine, alleging patient standard of care violations. At that time, the IBM was controlled by appointees of pro-abortion Democrat, former Gov. Tom Vilsack. That Board dismissed the complaint without action.

However, upon the election of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, new appointees to the board considered a petition submitted by a dozen Iowa physicians asking the Board to adopt regulations barring the webcam abortion process. After extensive hearings, the Board agreed that the remote abortion pill distribution scheme was not in the best interest of patients.

A lawyer with the Iowa Attorney General’s office argued in defense of the regulations. He argued that webcam abortions do not significantly improve access to abortions to women, based on findings of a study submitted by Planned Parenthood.

I was frankly disappointed in the State’s arguments. The attorney seemed unprepared to answer questions about the safety record of webcam abortions, indicating that the record on safety is “thin.” He even admitted to the Court that he personally did not agree with the Iowa Medical Board’s decision to ban webcam abortions.

It should be noted that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller was hostile to efforts to ban webcam abortion in Iowa, likely due to his cozy relationship with former Planned Parenthood Director Jill June.

After the hearing, I was present at a press conference masterfully handled by Michael Norton, and attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom. He rebutted Planned Parenthood’s false claim that webcam abortions are safe by pointing out that complications, including patient deaths, are “under reported if reported at all.”

He introduced Sue Thayer, a former clinic director for Planned Parenthood, who is now pro-life. She took issue with Planned Parenthood’s claim that its employees who conduct the ultrasounds prior to the brief webcam consult with an abortionist are highly trained. She said that workers in her clinic that conducted transvaginal ultrasounds only had a high school education and only about two days of training. In contrast, a pregnancy help center where Thayer now works requires that sonographers have a four-year degree and possess certification in ultrasonography.

Thayer also told the media of women who returned to her clinic suffering complications. One upset woman returned to Thayer’s northern Iowa clinic with the remains of her dead baby and complained of having only been told that the abortion process would be like having a heavy period.

Also present was Jenifer Bowen of Iowa Right to Life, who has fought against webcam abortions since 2008 and has worked with Operation Rescue to ensure women are protected from the dangerous process.

The case, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Iowa Board of Medicine, will now be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court. It is unknown when a final decision might be expected.

VICTORY: Judge Upholds Iowa Webcam Abortion Ban Regulations

By Cheryl Sullenger

Des Moines, IA – Polk County District Judge Jeffrey Farrell ruled today that the Iowa Board of Medicine was acting within its proper authority when it banned the use of Planned Parenthood’s experimental “Webcam” abortion pill distribution process. This ruling will allow the implementation and enforcement of the webcam abortion ban in 30 days.

Planned Parenthood has said it will appeal today’s ruling.

“Operation Rescue has worked with other state and national pro-life groups since 2010 to bring an end to this dangerous abortion pill distribution racket that puts Planned Parenthood profits above the lives and health of women,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “Today represents a long awaited victory for women and their babies.”

Webcam abortions enable an abortionist to remotely dispense abortion pills to patients in other cities without leaving a central office. The abortionist visits briefly for a short time with a patient via an internet video conferencing system then clicks a button on his computer that remotely opens a drawer in front of the patient containing the abortion pills.

The Board found that the lack of a physical examination by the dispensing abortionist fell well below patient care standards.

A report by the Des Moines Register elaborated:

The judge wrote that the board cited “legitimate reasons” to require physicians to perform an in-person physical examination before prescribing the abortion pills. He also wrote that if the procedure is no longer offered at satellite clinics, rural Iowa women would have to travel farther to obtain abortions, but he said this would not cause “undue hardship.”

However, despite Planned Parenthood’s claims, the outlying facilities operated by Planned Parenthood that currently use the dubious abortion pill distribution scheme are located in Iowa cities that have ample legitimate medical services available and are not in “rural” areas as Planned Parenthood claims.

In recent months, Planned Parenthood has voluntarily shut down webcam abortions in ten facilities. Nine offices still employ the now-banned pill distribution process.

Operation Rescue brought the webcam abortions to light after an undercover investigation in March, 2010, then exposed plans by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to expand the scheme into every one of their clinics nationwide, ironically during a protest of a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. This would have represented the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.

Since Planned Parenthood’s plans became public, 14 states have passed restrictions that require a licensed physician be present when abortion pills are dispensed, effectively banning the process of webcam abortion process. The planned national expansion of the webcam system has since been scuttled in the wake of the new state laws.

Read the Ruling

Planned Parenthood Halts Webcam Abortions at Tenth Iowa Facility

By Cheryl Sullenger

Des Moines, IA – Iowa Right to Life is reporting and Operation Rescue has confirmed that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has halted webcam abortions at their Cedar Rapids facility.

This represents the tenth Planned Parenthood webcam abortion facility that has stopped using the controversial abortion pill distribution scheme since 2012.

Operation Rescue has worked with Iowa pro-life groups, including Iowa Right to Life, to end webcam abortions.

“We are excited to see the dangerous process of dishing out abortion pills over an internet connection coming to an end,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “This represents a huge victory for those who support life and worked so hard to protect women from Planned Parenthood’s attempt to put profit above the lives and safety of women.”

Operation Rescue brought the webcam abortions to light after an undercover investigation in March, 2010, then exposed plans by Planned Parenthood Federation of America to expand the scheme into every one of their clinics nationwide, ironically during a protest of a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Cedar Rapids. This would have represented the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.

Webcam abortions reduced costs to Planned Parenthood since one abortionist could sit at a computer console and remotely dispense abortion drugs to women in offices all over the state without providing in-person exams or being available for follow up in the event of complications.

However, once information about the risky webcam abortion process spread, several states acted quickly to ban the remote distribution of abortion drugs outside the presence of a physician. Seventeen states now ban the webcam abortions. This effectively thwarted Planned Parenthood’s effort to make every one of their offices an abortion pill distribution center.

Nine of fourteen remaining Planned Parenthood facilities in Iowa still offer abortions. Just two years ago, the abortion business operated 26 offices in Iowa.

But now, even the few webcam abortion locations that remain may not be open for long.

An Iowa judge is considering whether to ban webcam abortions altogether in that state. The Iowa Board of Medicine voted last year to change regulations to halt the procedure for safety reasons, but Planned Parenthood sued to challenge the rules. A decision from the court is expected soon.

“If the judge rules to uphold the Iowa Board of Medicine regulations banning webcam abortions, it will spell out the final end to this appallingly substandard abortion process that preys on and exploits vulnerable pregnant women. That will be a sweet victory indeed for all who value and cherish life,” said Newman.