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Iowa Board Votes To Halt 'Tele-Med' Abortions

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- A state panel that oversees and regulates physicians and medical practices in Iowa voted Friday to adopt rules curtailing doctors' ability to dispense abortion-inducing pills via a video-conferencing system.

The Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8-2 to approve proposed administrative rule that would establish standards of practice for physicians who prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs.

The revised rules could take effect sometime in October, ending the practice of distributing abortion-inducing pills via a video-conferencing system.

"This is not about abortion, this is about standard of care," said Dr. Hamed Tewfix, an Iowa City physician who moved that the board adopt a rule change to halt the telemedicine practice that could take effect as early as November.

At issue is a practice by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland whereby licensed physicians use a remote-controlled system to conduct medical assessments with patients in rural Iowa clinics. They are then able to dispense Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a pregnancy.

Proponents say the practice implemented in 2008 -- is safe and patients get the same level of care as those who see a doctor in person. They contend the telemedicine procedure was thoroughly researched to ensure it was in full compliance with Iowa law and that the service helps women in remote parts of the state.

Abortion opponents asked the state board to block the program, saying it violates state medical standards and poses a health risk to women because it doesn't entail a face-to-face meeting with the doctor. Pro-life activists say Iowa's first-in-the-nation "tele-med" practice produces abortions with no direct physician interaction. No doctor is physically present and often no follow-up appointments occur.

Iowa Right to Life officials say they collected 20,000 signatures of concerned Iowans, both pro-life and pro-choice, who "agree that Iowa's women deserve better care than what amounts to an impersonal, subpar, and dangerous system like webcam abortion."

The Iowa Medical Society had asked the board to put the rule on hold rather than adopt it Friday, expressing concerns that other tele-medicine practices will be thrown into doubt if the board adopts the rule.

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