NPR on Telemedicine Abortion Care: Rep. King’s Witch-hunt


NPR’s Michele Martin provides another window into the manufactured controversy over telemedicine and abortion care in Iowa. On one side of the “debate:” Dr. Vanessa Cullins, Vice President for Medical Affairs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. On the other? Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the politician with a myopic aim to criminalize access to legal abortion and introduce the K-12 set to his anti-abortion position. Cullins discusses why and how Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa offers medical abortions – ie, the abortion pill – via video conferencing to women without access to abortion care in Iowa. Rep. King argues against increased access because, well, he’s against legal abortion.

Providing telemedicine abortion care requires a nurse practitioner as well as a physician. The patient, after being given a proper exam by a nurse practitioner, is set up via video conferencing with a physician who is licensed to prescribe mifepristone to induce an early abortion. As is the case with other early abortion care, mifepristone is exceedingly safe and relatively easy to use. In fact, notes Cullins, the complication rate is “less than 1 percent.” Says Cullins:

Medication abortion is highly safe, highly effective. And the woman who is being served is not only being served by the physician, but she’s being served by the nurse practitioner and other staff within the affiliate. She is receiving high quality, expert care. There’s absolutely no evidence that provision of medication abortion through telemedicine is any way dangerous. In fact, the record of Planned Parenthood of Heartland is not only that it is highly safe and effective, but women are highly satisfied with abortion being provided through telemedicine services.

Medication abortion – mifepristone – also has a high success rate. Ninety-seven percent of the time the abortion is completed via the pill alone. In the other 3 percent  a woman will need to come in for a surgical abortion procedure.

These “facts” seem not to sway King, however. Not only does he get the name of the medication wrong (“I’m going to have to call it RU-486 because I can’t remember the other name,” he tells Cullins), but he doesn’t even pretend to hide his real opposition to the use of telemedicine to offer medication abortions:

Rep. KING: I believe that life begins at the instant of conception and human life is sacred in all of its forms. I’m addressing the law and I’m addressing, also, FDA regulations at which this method that they are pioneering in Iowa violates Iowa law in my view. Certainly the intent, if not exactly the letter of the law, it’s a means to circumvent it.

The question of federal funding of abortion in the United States is a more relevant one these days, with Rep. Chris Smith’s introduction of the “No Taxpayer Funds for Abortion Act” which seeks to do much more than simply institute a permanent ban on federal funding for abortion. King insists on investigating Planned Parenthood for supposedly funneling federal funds into their telemedicine abortion provision, under the radar, though he has absolutely no evidence that is being done. It’s simply a waste of taxpayer time and money. Even Martin wonders:

And, finally, I did want to ask you about the question of taxpayer funding. Your letter, which you’re circulating to colleagues and which you hope to deliver tomorrow, was addressed to Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. And last week in an interview with The Hill, she said there is no taxpayer funding for abortion. Do you simply don’t believe her?

That is the question. Do King and Smith and their colleagues simply not believe that Planned Parenthood is not allowed to use federal funding for their abortion care? Or is it a more direct paranoia? As King tells Martin:

When that money goes into an organization like Planned Parenthood, if those dollars don’t directly go to something like this Skype abortion proposal that they have, the technique which is being pioneered in Iowa, if it doesn’t go there, then it goes into another fund that frees up dollars.

This is a witch-hunt. Rep. King believes that abortion should be illegal. Therefore he’s attacking anywhere and everywhere and hoping something will stick.

For the rest of the interviews, check out NPR.

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  • ahunt

    Rep King is a moron and a bully.