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Study Says Pill System Didn't Raise Iowa Abortions

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) A study shows the number of abortions in Iowa hasn't increased since doctors were allowed starting in 2008 to prescribe an abortion-inducing drug via a remote-controlled system to patients in rural areas, The Des Moines Register reported Friday.

The study, released Thursday by the American Journal of Public Health, examined the number of abortions in the two years before and after the telemedicine abortions began, the newspaper said.

It found the rate of abortions declined after Planned Parenthood of the Heartland introduced the system in June 2008. Through the program, Iowa women can visit small-town clinics and take pills administered by doctors after video conferences.

At the same time, Planned Parenthood reported a slight increase in abortions done by the new procedure, said Daniel Grossman, the study's co-author.

"I think the most important thing is that it showed how access was improved after telemedicine was introduced," said Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health in Massachusetts. The organization works to improve access to women's reproductive health services.

Proponents say Iowa's telemedicine system is safe, legal and extends abortion access to rural areas. Opponents disagree, saying doctors have little in-person oversight and the women can suffer complications after leaving the clinics with some of the drugs necessary to complete the abortions at their homes.

After the program was introduced, abortion opponents asked the Iowa Board of Medicine to rule that doctors using the system violated state law because they weren't present when abortions were performed. The board declined.

"This lowers the standard of care for women, when we should be increasing it," said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue. He argued that the possibility of complications lowered the quality of care.

Newman said the decreased number of abortions is the result of efforts by organizations, such as his national anti-abortion group, to curb the procedure's use.

The decrease also reflects a national trend, he said, as the rate of abortions nationwide declined between 2000 and 2008, according to the most recently available census data.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland officials said a prior survey of women who have used the procedure showed a high rate of satisfaction and low rate of complications. There were 1,021 abortions performed through telemedicine in Iowa during fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30.

The study shows the value of remotely administered abortions, said Penny Dickey, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

"The results of this study confirm that providing access to medication abortion using telemedicine does not increase the number of abortions, but allows a woman to end a pregnancy when and where it is best for her," Dickey said.

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