Iowa May Limit Controversial Webcam Abortions

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The state of Iowa may soon restrict so-called webcam abortions. The state was the first in the country to use telemedicine abortions.

Supporters say they provide necessary medical care to rural areas. But opponents argue they do more harm than good.

Now the Iowa Board of Medicine is taking a closer look at the issue.

Currently, women can walk into a clinic, sit in front of camera, and consult with a doctor.

"He will push a remote control button and then a drawer will pop open where the girl is and then the girl will be given two bottles of pills," Jenifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, explained the process.

The woman takes the first set of pills while she's at the clinic. The second is taken at home over the next 24-48 hours.

Throughout the whole telemedicine, or webcam abortion process, the patient never once has to be in the same room as a doctor

But that may soon change.

"The state of Iowa's board of medicine is intending to place into rule that they will no longer administer the abortion pill over tele-medically without a doctor present. The reason for that is because the increased risk it has on the woman," Kelly Larson, a registered nurse, explained.

Fourteen members of the medical community and more than 20,000 Iowans petitioned the state board, asking for a change in the rules when it comes to webcam abortions.

If it happens, Iowa wouldn't be the first state to restrict the use of the procedure. Eleven other states already require that a doctor be present while a chemical abortion of this kind is performed.

The argument against these telemedicine abortions in places like Iowa has been that, for the most part, if you're in big cities like Des Moines you don't really need them. However, if in rural areas, in a place like Iowa it's a much different story.

"Telemedicine in general can be very helpful," Larsen said. "To be able to, you know, help and consult a woman over video in a rural community can be very helpful. But it's just not a standard of practice."

When a procedure like an abortion is involved in long-distance medicine over the Internet, problems can come up

"Because when you go to a doctor and you have questions, yes they say that they have someone on call for that. But I receive phone calls on a regular basis complaining of bleeding and they don't know if it's too much, pain, just different side effects from the abortion," Larsen said.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has performed about 3,000 webcam abortions since 2008. They say the push to end the practice is nothing more than a political game.

In an editorial in the Des Moines Register the group's president wrote, "Decisions on medicine should be based on science, facts, and sound evidence, not on opinions or beliefs... Politicizing the Iowa Board of Medicine destroys the concept and integrity of health care as we know it."

Even so, the board is moving forward, letting Iowans weigh in on the issue. Both opponents and supporters of telemedicine abortions will have their chance to speak out at a public hearing on Aug. 28.

But in the end, the Iowa Board of Medicine will get to make the final decision on the future of tele-medicine abortion in the state.

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