DES MOINES (AP) — The number of abortions in Iowa has decreased since doctors were allowed, starting in 2008, to prescribe an abortion-inducing drug to patients in rural areas via a remote-controlled system, a study has found.
The findings, released Thursday by the American Journal of Public Health, examined the number of abortions in Iowa in the two years before and after Planned Parenthood of the Heartland began the system.
In the program, an Iowan in the earliest stage of pregnancy can visit a small-town clinic and take pills administered by a doctor after a videoconference.
The study found the rate of abortions in Iowa declined after the procedure was made available in June 2008. At the same time, Planned Parenthood reported a slight increase in abortions performed as women opted for 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, which works to improve access to women's reproductive health services.
The study also found a drop in the number of abortions done in the second trimester, when the risk of complications is higher, said Grossman, a clinical professor in obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Proponents say Iowa's telemedicine system is safe and 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 foes asked the Iowa Board of Medicine to rule that doctors using it violated state law because they weren't present when the abortions occurred. The board declined.
“This lowers the standard of care for women when we should be increasing it,” said Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.
Newman said the decrease in abortions is the result of efforts by groups such as his. It 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 used the procedure showed a high rate of satisfaction and low rate of complications. There were 1,021 abortions performed via telemedicine in Iowa during fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30.
The study shows the value of remotely administered abortions, said Penny Dickey, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman.
“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,” she said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.