Abortions by video to expand across the U.S.

WASHINGTON — The Planned Parenthood Federation of America may have found a way to extend its lead as the country's top abortion provider through a videoconferencing method now being used in Iowa.

Planned Parenthood has a five-year strategy to make abortion an essential service in all of its centers in the United States, an official of the organization said recently. The long-distance method it has labeled "tele-medicine" could accelerate the achievement of that goal.

Expanding abortion services to all of its centers could produce a dramatic increase in the number of the procedures performed by affiliates of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). The organization has more than 840 health centers, according to PPFA. Only 304 of those centers provide abortions by means of surgery or drugs such as RU 486, according to a study released in March by American Life League. A request of PPFA for the number of its clinics that perform abortions was not provided in time for this article.

In addition to the moral issues of "tele-med" abortions it is also deemed to become a "cash cow" for the abortion industry according to Troy Newman, president of the activist pro-life organization Operation Rescue.

"Planned Parenthood bills insurance companies $1,000 for a tele-med abortion — twice the price of cash patients, two and a half time more than the national average cost of an abortion by pill," said Newman in a press release. "This over-billing practice increases health insurance costs for everyone."

In the first system of its kind in the United States, a doctor in Des Moines or another city can counsel by means of videoconferencing a woman seeking an abortion at another Planned Parenthood center in the state, the Des Moines Register reported May 16. After he has reviewed sonogram images and visited with the woman, the physician can dispense the two-step abortion drug popularly known as RU 486 to her by pressing a computer button, according to the Register. His action opens a drawer from which the woman in the remote clinic may remove the pills.

The physician is able to observe her take the first pill, known as mifepristone or RU 486. She returns home to take the second pill, known as misoprostol, two days later. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child, resulting in his death. Misoprostol causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.

So far, 1.500 videoconferencing abortions have been performed since the effort began in July 2008, Iowa Public Radio News reported, and Planned Parenthood believes that number will multiply across the country.

"We have been looking at initiating an abortion service as a core service of all Planned Parenthoods, part of the federation's strategic plan for 2015," said Barbara Chadwick, director of patient services for Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Abortions by RU 486 will be a key component of Planned Parenthood's strategy, Chadwick said, and enrolling people in the videoconferencing option will help the organization reach its goal more quickly, Iowa Public Radio reported.

Pro-life advocates have criticized the system, which they describe as "tele-med" abortion. It will spread abortion into communities where the procedure is not performed, they contend. The method also means a woman seeking an abortion will not receive a physical examination or any other in-person care from a doctor, they say.

"If this push-button abortion scheme is allowed to spread, it will only increase the number of abortions at a time when abortion rates are falling and abortion clinics are closing," said Newman. "Not only will more babies die, but women will be placed in increased danger of serious medical complications or death, with no real emergency plan other than to make patients fend for themselves at whatever emergency room they can find."

Operation Rescue has filed complaints with the Iowa Board of Medicine, saying the "tele-med" method is dangerous and violates guidelines for use of RU 486.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which includes clinics in Iowa and Nebraska, is utilizing the method in 16 clinics, the Register reported. Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa plans to join in the program. That expansion will make abortions available for the first time at Planned Parenthood clinics in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, according to Iowa Public Radio News.

PPFA affiliates across the United States performed more than 305,000 abortions in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA received about $350 million in government grants and contracts in 2008.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa initiated the program nearly two years ago. In 2009, it merged with Planned Parenthood of Nebraska and Council Bluffs to form Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

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