Abortion pills by video

A few months ago, we looked at stories about Angie Jackson, the woman who video taped herself having an abortion. Now we have stories coming out of Iowa about Planned Parenthood's initiative to dispense an abortion drug after a video conference. The story has been circulating on the local level and on some advocacy sites, but the New York Times is taking notice. The beginning of Monica Davey's article seems fair, setting up the arguments from different sides.

Efforts to provide medical services by videoconference, a notion known as telemedicine, are expanding into all sorts of realms, but these clinics in Iowa are the first in the nation, and so far the only ones, experts say, to provide abortions this way.

Advocates say the idea offers an answer to an essential struggle that has long troubled those who favor abortion rights: How to make abortions available in far-flung, rural places and communities where abortion providers are unable or unwilling to travel. So far only Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa use this method, but around the country, abortion providers have begun asking how they might replicate the concept.

For some, however, the program tests the already complicated bounds of telemedicine. Abortion opponents say they are alarmed, fearful for the safety of women who undergo abortions after consulting with doctors who have never actually been in the same room with them. Opponents filed a complaint this spring with the Iowa Board of Medicine, arguing that a doctor's remote clicking of a mouse hardly meets the state's law requiring licensed physicians to perform abortions, and more objections are coming.

If you read further, though, you'll find the following talking heads.

--The head of Operation Rescue

--The vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

--The president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland

--One of Planned Parenthood's doctors

--The president of the National Abortion Federation

Three Planned Parenthood representatives? That feels, um, balanced? Couldn't the reporter make an effort to contact at least one of the more prominent anti-abortion organizations in the country, such as the National Right to Life Committee or Care Net? What about the local chapters? And as Mollie pointed out last week, the Times hasn't bothered mentioned public opinion regarding abortion.

The reporter tracks down some solid numbers about the number of clinics using the procedure and how many have abortions have been performed. However, I would have been interested in the details behind the supposed growing percentage of women opting for abortions by medication. Does anyone track those numbers?

We have a brief mention of the health risks involved but the article doesn't mention the FDA warning against buying the drug over the Internet. Seems kind of relevant, doesn't it? This is the brief health paragraph from the article.

Abortion providers say the pills are safe and mostly effective (successfully ending about 97 in 100 pregnancies, according to Planned Parenthood). In rare cases, such abortions have appeared related to sometimes fatal infections caused by a bacterium, though federal authorities have found no definitive link.

The FDA also recommends follow-up visits and medical screening to avoid complications. Does Planned Parenthood recommend or require this at all?

This section of the article feels almost whimsical:

Some people, including Jill June, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, have long seen the potential of abortion medication as making it feasible for women in remote places, far from surgical clinics and surgical abortion providers, to have access to abortions in their own local doctors' offices. But that promise, Ms. June said, has largely gone unfulfilled (many doctors have not offered the pills), and that--as well as a television show she saw one night in which a doctor carried out elaborate surgery via a robotic device--led her to dream up Iowa's program.

"If they can do some of these complicated surgeries from miles and miles away from an operating room, why can't I hand someone a pill across the state?" Ms. June remembered thinking.

These paragraphs feel a bit like a waste when we could ask some pretty basic questions. How much does it cost for a patient to do this procedure instead of a surgical abortion? How late in the pregnancy can you have this procedure? Why is there no mention of the specific medications involved? Here's what the Des Moines Register article reports:

The abortion process in question involves two medications, both of which cause women to miscarry. The first is Mifeprex, a brand name for a pill also known by its chemical name, RU-486. The second drug is misoprostol, which women take at home after taking Mifeprex in the clinic.

About 1,500 Iowa patients have used Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's videoconferencing system to obtain abortion drugs in the past two years. The medication is available only to women in their first nine weeks of pregnancy.

The Register article also explains what is said in a presentation video, something that went unmentioned in the Times article. Perhaps the Times could have spent more time explaining some basic information instead of what led the Planned Parenthood director to "dream up" the idea.

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