Thursday, June 17, 2010

Telemedicine: The New Wave for Abortions

In Iowa, a local Planned Parenthood is using telemedicine to administer RU-486, otherwise known as the “abortion pill.” A remote doctor “meets” with the client via webcam, and, with a click of his mouse, remotely opens a drawer to dispense the pills to the client. The pills then have to be taken in front of the webcam so that the doctor can observe.

The Iowa Planned Parenthood says that affiliates from all over the country are calling them to find out how they can implement this new technological strategy. The whole idea came about because clients living in rural areas don’t always have access to doctors in their area. So, instead of a Planned Parenthood doctor having to travel all across the state “for one abortion pill patient,” they can now administer the drug via webcam.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, for one thing, there is evidence that RU-486 has the potential of being an extremely dangerous drug for women. Since the introduction of this drug in America until 2006, the FDA has acknowledged that there have been six deaths, nine life-threatening incidents, 232 hospitalizations, 116 blood transfusions, and 88 cases of infection. These reports are based on the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS), which is a voluntary system experiencing underreporting.(1) However, from the reports they did receive, let’s read just one experience from taking RU-486.

(Warning, the following is an unedited report that contains graphic descriptions associated with the effects of medical abortions.)

Event of January 1, 2000, reported September 27, 2000, one day before the approval of Mifeprex (RU-486): “I was issued RU-486 in effort of obtaining an abortion. I followed directions exactly, and after taking the ru-486, I was in excrutiating physical pain, for at least 12 hours straight and I was bleeding extremely excessively. I was bleeding through my pants but was in so much pain I couldn’t even clean myself. It was the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. This extreme pain was constant the whole 12 hours, it did not let up at all the whole time. I vomited continuously but couldn’t even hold my head up. I had unbelievable abdominal pains, I can’t even put in words. I couldn’t speak, eat, drink, sit up, and had difficulty breathing. The only thing I could do was lie on the floor and pull my hair to deal with the pain. I couldn’t clean myself or go to the bathroom, I thought I was going to die. After about 7 hours of this, I really wanted to die because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I wanted to call the hospital but I was hours from any hospital because I went to our cabin in a remote area to have privacy during this time. The administering clinic was closed since it was the weekend…. I was not informed of the extent of these side effects, I was told it would be just like a menstrual period. I never would have taken this had I been properly informed, even of the possibility of those effects…I was not told that this drug was experimental and not approved by the FDA…I believe they outright lied to me…when I returned to the clinic after the abortion was complete, they were not very attentive or interested in me, I explained to them my pains even though they didn’t ask me any questions. I filled out a questionairre that they gave me before I took the drug and they said I have to do the questionnaire ever couple hours during the abortion, but when I offered it to them upon return, they didn’t even want the questionaire, they didn’t take it.”(1)

Interestingly enough, Planned Parenthood wants to disperse this drug via telemedicine to women who live in rural areas, namely the ones who don’t have easy access to a doctor. However, in the personal account above, this woman was also hours away from a hospital, meaning that she had to experience these side effects alone - without the care of a physician. So, why then would it be a good idea for a doctor to administer this drug remotely without easy access to provide care for the woman who has these adverse side effects? Health care providers are NOT required to report these problems to the FDA, however, women who experience adverse side effects can report directly to the FDA.

The Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest has already expanded this telemedicine to Soldotna, Alaska, and they are looking to spread into other rural areas of the state. How far will this go until there are enough adverse reports to have this pill taken off the market? Until that day comes, please find out how you can help Inspire Life in your own community.

(1) Letter from David W. Boyer, Assistant Commissioner for Legislation, Food and Drug Administration, to Hon. Mark E. Souder, Chairman, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources (May 2, 2006) (on file with Subcommittee).

Kay Sanford is the Fundraising Manager for Donor Relations at Care Net.  She can be reached at