Abortion by Internet? Docs Push New Frontiers

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Abortion providers are pushing the technology frontier once again to reach a new clientele. The procedure, known as "telemed" or "webcam abortion," uses the Internet to connect doctor and patient.

Planned Parenthood has chosen Iowa as the test site for the new abortion. It's touting it as the best way to reach rural women who want an abortion.

But some medical professionals and pro-lifers say telemed abortion is a dangerous way for a woman to end a pregnancy.

New Money-Makers

Pro-lifers believe Planned Parenthood wants to utilize telemed abortion as a way to help its bottom line.

Former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-lifer Abby Johnson tells CBN News that Planned Parenthood usually makes a $300 to $400 profit off each abortion using the abortion pill, which includes telemed abortions. 

It also cuts its costs with telemed abortions because it can pay a discounted rate to doctors who are not physically present meeting the patient. 

"If they do medication abortion, they can find a doctor who is private but has an hour at lunch and can get on his computer or Blackberry at lunch and authorize a few abortions," Johnson explained.

Telemed abortions also solve another problem for Planned Parenthood: a growing shortage of doctors willing to perform abortions.

Abortion by Internet?

The biggest debate right now, however, is just how safe are telemed abortions?

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa refused an interview with CBN News on the subject. But in a Jan. 24 interview with Michel Martin on National Public Radio, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for Medical Affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explained how they work.

Telemed abortions utilize the abortion pill, known as RU-486, or by its trade name, Mifeprex.

According to Cullins, a telemed abortion patient will meet in person with a nurse practitioner who will take her medical history and perform an ultrasound and a physical exam.

The woman then meets with the abortion doctor via the Internet. The doctor can then explain how the abortion works and decide if she's a "candidate" for medication abortion.

If so, the doctor literally hits a button releasing the two abortion pills to her. She'll take one immediately, and the second pill at home the next day.

"There's absolutely no evidence that provision of medication abortion through telemedicine is (in) any way dangerous," Cullins said.

Dangerous Medicine?

However, the FDA says it has received reports of "serious adverse events, including several deaths" since it approved the abortion pill, known as Mifeprex, in 2000. 

Also, a 2006 congressional report called, "The FDA and RU-486:  Lowering the Standard for Women's Health," notes that emergency rooms "have no obligation whatsoever to report adverse events for RU-486" even assuming that the healthcare worker knows what happened.

Many abortion patients who go to the emergency room with complications are hesitant to reveal their abortion. They can easily hide it because their side effects are similar to that of a natural miscarriage.

Even the official Mifeprex website notes medical complications are not unusual. It lists the failure rate as 5-8 percent and notes that 5-8 percent of women taking Mifeprex will need surgery to safely end their pregnancy or stop heavy bleeding. 

This month, obstetrician Dr. Allan Sawyer testified before an Arizona House committee that obstetric and gynecologic hemorrhage can be comparable to that seen in "major trauma." 

This is perhaps the biggest medical concern for telemed patients. Doctors worry that they'll experience this major trauma, which can be life-threatening, alone at home.

Facing Trauma Alone

Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explained the experience from the patient's perspective.

"She's on her own to figure out how much bleeding is too much bleeding, how much pain is too much pain, how much cramping is too much and how much physical trauma is too much," she said.

There's emotional trauma to consider as well.

"Planned Parenthood is touting this as, 'Oh, you'll have your miscarriage in the comfort of your home,'" Maggie Dewitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, said.

"But are they really allowing the women to understand that they're going to deliver a dead child in their home?" she questioned.

Future Fights

Planned Parenthood has told supporters that they plan to go nation-wide with this new model. In the meantime, Iowa pro-lifers are fighting back with a strategy that national pro-lifers say other states should consider as well. 

Iowa House Assistant Majority Leader Matt Windschitl has introduced legislation that would require the doctor prescribing the abortion pill to be present in person.

Windschitl is hoping for bi-partisan support noting that "this is about the health and welfare of the mother and the concerns that are legitimate concerns."

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.