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.

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.”

Planned Parenthood Backs Down, Withdraws Suit Against Operation Rescue For Requesting Public Records

Des Moines, IA – Planned Parenthood has filed a motion to dismiss in a law suit against Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger that was an attempt to block the Iowa Board of Medicine from releasing public information about four of their employees.

The documents, comprised of medical license applications that are a matter of public record in all states, were released by the Iowa Board of Medicine to Sullenger last week, three months after her initial request. At least two of the “doctors” are involved in Planned Parenthood’s webcam abortion pill distribution scheme, known as telemed abortions.

“While all the documents were heavily redacted – more so than we usually see with these kinds of records – we are grateful to our legal team, including Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society and Iowa attorney Mike Holzworth for working so hard to ensure that Planned Parenthood did not wrongfully conceal information that the public has a right to know. This is a victory for everyone because it helps keep the government accountable to the people.”

In addition, Iowa attorney Patrick Smith represented the Citizen’s Information Center and another requester, both from Massachusetts, which had made similar, independent requests. Both of those suits have been dismissed as well.

“Based on conversations with Kent Nebel of the Iowa Board of Medicine, I believe that he improperly tipped off Planned Parenthood to the requests in order to allow Planned Parenthood time to file the suits,” said Sullenger. “Mr. Nebel told me personally that he was instructed by the Attorney General’s office to inform Planned Parenthood of the public records requests. There is nothing we can see in Iowa law that would mandate such notification.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is currently under an ethics investigation for his part in blocking independent investigations into alleged criminal abortions conducted by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland through their webcam abortion scheme.

“It looks to us like Planned Parenthood still has a lot to hide. They were so afraid of the discovery phase in the law suits that they apparently decided it was better to allow the Iowa Board of Medicine to release the public information rather than allow us to ask them questions they did not want to answer,” said Sullenger. “We are still very concerned about the cozy relationships that exist between the Iowa Attorney General’s office, the Iowa Board of Medicine and Planned Parenthood.”

Attorneys for Operation Rescue are considering further legal action to ensure that politics are not being placed above the public welfare in Iowa.

Background
View public documents: Freund, Haskell, Railsback, Ross

New RU486 Data Points To Telemed Abortion Complication Cover-Up

Confidential informant backs up accusations of negligent care and profit motives in the remote distribution of abortion drugs

Des Moines, IA – New data released in the U.S. and Australia concerning complications to the abortion pill, RU 486, also known as Mifepristone or Mifeprex appears to point to a cover-up of the true complication rate to telemed abortions done by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH).

On September 30, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control revealed in the New England Journal of Medicine that there have been two more deaths from the abortion pill, one in 2008 and one just last year, bringing the U.S. death toll to ten since the FDA approved the drug in 2000.

In addition, The Australian reported on October 2, 2010, that complications to usage of the RU486 abortion pill in that country is causing concern.

“It should raise serious questions about the ethicacy and appropriateness of this method of termination,” said Australian Senator Guy Barnett of Tasmania.

Australia’s reported complications are disturbing. Between December of last year, when restrictions on the abortion pill was relaxed, and July of 2010, there have been a reported 3,000 medical abortions reported in three provinces, a number that can be generally compared to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s figure of 1,900 medical abortions done through their remote-controlled push-button abortion pill distribution scheme, known as telemed abortions.

In Australia, the drugs completely failed in 14 cases, and in another 110 cases reported such “adverse effects” as retention of the placenta, retention of aborted baby remains, conditions that require emergency surgery.

This represents a 4.1% complication rate requiring surgical abortion or emergency surgery – and this is with the benefit of the oversight of licensed physicians, a figure that is concerning to Australians, but is reflective of the reported complication rates elsewhere in the world.

Meanwhile, PPH has incredibly reported no complications in their nearly 2,000 remote controlled telemed abortions where a licensed physician only speaks with the patient for a few minutes over an Internet video connection, then never sees the patient again. The pills are distributed when the abortionist pushes a button in his or her office, opening a drawer containing the pills at the office where the patient is located.

“The numbers simply do not add up. Either Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is engaging in an intentional cover-up of telemed abortion complications or it is an indication that they provide essentially no follow-up for patients once they load them on abortion pills and send them out the door. Either scenario would be gross misconduct on PPH’s part that further endangers the lives of women,” said Operation Rescue spokesperson Cheryl Sullenger.

In fact, a confidential informant with first-hand knowledge of the inner working of PPH has come forward to tell Operation Rescue that the telemed abortion scheme shows a “revolting lack of concern” for the lives and health of women. The informant insists that the scheme was developed with a high profit margin in mind, not the best interests of women. According to the informant, who has spoken to OR on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals, PPH has traditionally attempted to distance the organization from any abortion complications, having a “Hear-no-evil, See-no-evil” attitude.

“Planned Parenthood doesn’t deal with complications,” said the informant. “They send the women to the ER.”

“From the new data, we can see that the abortion pill is more dangerous than thought, with an additional two deaths having been reported in the past two years. We can also see that a zero percent complication rate is statistically impossible. Why would Planned Parenthood of the Heartland engage in a cover-up about the true dangers of their push-button abortions? Perhaps it is to conceal their negligent lack of follow-up care and protect their profit potential,” said Sullenger.

“This is an unethical and outrageous exploitation of women. Their dishonesty on this matter presents an immediate danger to the public.”

The Iowa Board of Medicine is currently investigating complaints filed by Operation Rescue and others against abortionists involved in the push-button pill scheme. Pro-life groups assert that the telemed abortion process is illegal since Iowa law mandates that abortions can only be done by licensed physicians, which are never present at any time during the remote abortion pill process.

Even an editorial published by the Des Moines Register on September 5, 2010, essentially admitted that telemed abortions are illegal in Iowa and called for a change in the laws to allow them.

“Instead of changing the law, how about enforcing it,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “It is shocking that the Des Moines Register would advocate for endangering women by decriminalizing the unlicensed practice of medicine. It shows that for these people, abortion politics and profit come before the health and safety of women.”

The IBM has made it clear, however, that they lack the oversight to stop the procedure and can only discipline licensed physicians if the standard of care has been violated.

However, the IBM can produce public policy guidelines concerning the use – or misuse – of telemedicine in Iowa. An Ad Hoc committee has been appointed to look into the use of telemedicine, including PPH’s push-button abortions. A public hearing to discuss public policy guidelines has been scheduled for October 22, 2010.

Operation Rescue and other pro-life groups plan to be in attendance.

“We must hold the Board accountable to the law and demand an end to this illegal and dangerous practice of distributing abortion pills over the Internet without the presence or oversight of a licensed physician,” said Sullenger. “Planned Parenthood has already admitted that they want to expand their telemed abortion system into every state, and that would represent an unprecedented danger to women and their babies. For the sake of vulnerable women, we must stop this dangerous remote controlled abortion scam here and now.”

Operation Rescue is seeking women who have suffered complications to telemed abortions in Iowa. Click here to learn more or to tell your story to us.

Operation Rescue Seeks Women Who Have Had Abortion Pill Complications

Des Moines, IA – Ten years after the abortion pill, RU 486, also known as Mifeprex or Mifepristol, was approved by the FDA, questions about its safety remain, especially in Iowa, where Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is dispensing an abortion drug combination via a remote controlled vending machine scheme known as telemed abortions that prevents patients being examined physically by a licensed physician or receiving adequate follow-up care.

Because of this, Operation Rescue is asking women who have suffered complications from medical abortions, especially in Iowa, to tell their stories.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which is the first in the nation to employ the remote-controlled abortion pill distribution system, incredibly has told media that after 1,900 telemed abortions, there have been no complications.

“We know that is simply impossible. All this statement shows is that Planned Parenthood supplies such abysmal follow-up care that they are completely ignorant about what happens to women after they load them up with abortion pills and send them out the door to deal with the aftermath on their own,” said Operation Rescue spokesperson Cheryl Sullenger. “Planned Parenthood’s emergency plan is to tell the women to go to the emergency room if complications arise, then wash their hands of them.”

According to Planned Parenthood’s own statistics, 3-4% of women taking the abortion pill will suffer incomplete abortions that require surgery. The UPI reported on September 28, 2010, that the abortion pill’s incomplete abortion rate is actually eight percent.

That means out of 1,900 telemed abortions done by Planned Parenthood, there should be approximately 60-150 women who have suffered incomplete abortions requiring surgical intervention. Those numbers do not even take into consideration other known complications, such as excessive bleeding requiring surgery and serious infections that require immediate emergency care.

In addition, Planned Parenthood is prescribing Mifeprex through 9 weeks of pregnancy, two weeks beyond the safety limit set by the FDA. Along with Mifeprex, women are given a drug called Misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, a drug originally developed to treat ulcers. The manufacturer of Cytotec has warned women not to take the drug to induce abortions, a warning cavalierly disregarded by Planned Parenthood. These factors increase the risks of serious complications.

Operation Rescue has filed a complaint against Planned Parenthood’s telemed abortion scheme with the Iowa Board of Medicine. An investigation is underway. The IBM is scheduled to discuss public policy on telemedicine at a meeting on October 22.

“It is time for women who have suffered these complications to come forward and tell their stories so other women won’t have to suffer as they have. If necessary, we will protect the identity of anyone who wants to speak with us about their abortion pill experience,” said Sullenger.

Contact Operation Rescue at 316-683-6790 ext. 112 or send an e-mail to contact(at)operationrescue.org.