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.

Judge Considers Iowa Regulations Banning Webcam Abortion

Meanwhile, nine webcam facilities in Iowa have closed since 2012 while 17 states have banned the corners-cutting Internet abortion pill distribution scheme

By Cheryl Sullenger

Des Moines, IA – Polk County Judge Jeffery Farrell is currently considering a suit brought by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland against the Iowa Board of Medicine for new rules that ban the webcam abortion system of dispensing abortion pills that was developed in Iowa. A ruling is expected soon.

The two parties appeared in court earlier this week to debate whether the Iowa Board of Medicine acted properly in adopting the new regulations last August.

Planned Parenthood argued in court that the Board’s decision was “flawed” and “politically motivated.” It noted that 5,000 abortion have been done using the webcam system, but failed to mention that it does not track complications of women who must find their own way to emergency rooms when things go wrong.

Planned Parenthood also insisted that Board member Fr. Frank Bognanno, a Catholic priest who was appointed by pro-life Gov. Terry Branstad, should have recused himself from the vote. However, the Attorney General’s office, which defended the regulations, noted that procedures allow for a party to ask for recusals ahead of Board votes, which Planned Parenthood never did.

While Planned Parenthood argued that the regulations would create a hardship on “rural” women, forcing them to drive “hundreds of miles” to get abortions, the Attorney General’s office countered that Planned Parenthood never stated exactly how many miles women might have to actually drive.

All of Planned Parenthood webcam site have been located in or very near metropolitan areas with ample access to legitimate health care, making the “undue burden” argument spurious.

Planned Parenthood once operated their webcam abortion pill scheme at 15 locations throughout Iowa, but since 2012, they have halted abortions at nine of those locations, including Storm Lake, Knoxville, Newton, Ankeny, Spencer, Creston, Red Oak, West Health Center in Urbandale, and the Susan Knapp Health Center located near Drake University in Des Moines.

The Attorney General’s office also noted that currently 17 states ban webcam abortions and none of those state laws have been found unconstitutional.

Webcam, or telemed abortions involve the remote dispensing of abortion drugs to women at Planned Parenthood locations where the abortionist is not present. The abortionist briefly interviews the prospective abortion patient over a closed video conferencing system, then dispenses the pills at the patient’s location by clicking a button on a computer screen that releases a drawer containing the abortion drugs. Women never receive a physical examination by a licensed physician, who is also not available to the patient in the event of a complication.

“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?” asked Dr. Greg Hoversten, Chairman of the Iowa Board of Medicine at the time of the Board’s vote last August.

Operation Rescue brought the abortion pill distribution scheme 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. Operation Rescue worked with Iowa pro-life groups, including Iowa Right to Life, to end webcam abortions.

Since then, Planned Parenthood’s plans to conduct what would have been the largest expansion of abortion services since Roe v. Wade have failed after bans on webcam abortions were enacted in 17 states. Federal legislation was also introduced. This made Planned Parenthood affiliates in other states reluctant to invest in the required hardware for a process that could soon be outlawed in their states.

“If Judge Farrell rules that the regulations will stand, it will be the end of Planned Parenthood’s scheme to cut corners on women’s health and safety for the sake of greater profits,” said Newman. “Their plan to expand webcam abortions into all 50 states has already failed because of the diligence of pro-life groups to raise the alarm on Planned Parenthood’s exploitive practices. Abortion numbers are falling in Iowa, despite Planned Parenthood’s efforts to increase them. A favorable ruling in this case would be the cherry on top of a string of pro-life victories that are saving lives today.”

Iowa Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Ban Webcam Abortions as Stats Show Planned Parenthood’s “Cash Cow” has Failed to Produce

By Cheryl Sullenger

IowaCapitolDes Moines, IA – A bill has been introduced in the Iowa Legislature to ban what are known as “telemed” or “webcam” abortions in that state. The bill was introduced by Republican State Rep. Matt Windschitl and 18 co-sponsors.

“If I could stop all abortion in this state, I would,” Windschitl told the Des Moines Register.

“Operation Rescue supports this bill will protect women and babies by halting the dangerous webcam abortion scheme in Iowa. We stand ready to assist, if called upon,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

There have been attempts to ban the abortion pill distribution scheme since 2010 when Operation Rescue released an investigative exposé on the experimental practice developed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. While there was popular support for ending the webcam experiment, efforts to end it were initially rebuffed by the Iowa Board of Medicine. At that time, the IBM, as well as the Governor and State Attorney General’s offices were occupied by pro-abortion Democrats that rejected efforts to protect women from Planned Parenthood’s below-standard-of-care practice.

Last year, at the request of 14 Iowa physicians, the Iowa Board of Medicine – now completely revamped by pro-life Republican Gov. Terry Branstad — voted to adopt regulations to halt the practice of dispensing abortion pills to patients without the presence of a licensed physician. Planned Parenthood successfully sued to block implementation of the new regulations and continues to dangerously dispense abortion drugs to women who never receive a physical exam or follow-up from a doctor.

The fact that the Board regulations are tied up in court prompted the introduction of the new legislation.

“I appreciate the separation of the judicial, executive and legislative branches,” Windschitl told reporters. “As a member of the legislative branch, I’m doing what I know to be correct and right.”

During the webcam abortion process, an abortionist briefly interviews abortion patients, who are at another clinic, over an internet videoconferencing connection. The abortionist then dispenses the pills by pressing a button on a computer screen that releases a drawer at the outlying clinic containing the abortion drugs. The women are sent home to complete the long, painful, and bloody abortion process at home in an unmonitored environment.

Webcam abortions created the possibility of dramatically increasing revenue for Planned Parenthood by reducing the number of abortionists on staff while expanding abortion services into cities where Planned Parenthood maintained offices. But its plans of abortion expansion and big profits have simply not materialized.

Since Planned Parenthood first began experimenting with the internet abortion pill dispensing process in 2008, the number of medication abortions has not experienced the expected increase, The number of medication abortions has remained relatively steady since the advent of webcam abortions in Iowa. Meanwhile surgical abortions dropped by almost half.

In fact, the overall number of abortions in Iowa has actually decreased by a surprising 30% since 2007, the year before the introduction of webcam abortions, despite the scheme to increase abortion availability.


Source: Iowa Department of Health

Operation Rescue’s exposé alerting the nation to Planned Parenthood’s webcam abortion scheme and its 5-year plan to put the system in every Planned Parenthood office in the country, 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 a climate of increased pro-life sentiment and decreased demand for abortion, losing the webcam ‘cash cow’ has been a financial blow to Planned Parenthood,” said Newman. “We are proud of our work in exposing Planned Parenthood’s webcam abortion pill scam and appreciate the work of Iowa Right to Life in their persistence in opposing this dangerous abortion process. The passage and implementation of this legislation will undoubtedly save lives and will represent a huge victory for women and their babies. We encourage Iowa lawmakers to move it quickly through the system.”