Iowa Medical Board Won’t Punish Doctor in Telemed Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2011   |   5:53PM   |   Des Moines, IA

The Iowa Board of Medicine has decided not to punish an Iowa physician for engaging in a controversial practice known as telemed abortions, which prevents women from seeing a doctor in person before using the abortion drug.

Iowa and national pro-life groups have complained about the process because they say it puts women’s health at risk by not allowing them an in-person examination before taking a drug that has killed more than a dozen women, seven in the United States, and injured more than 1,100 alone in the U.S., according to 2006 FDA figures.

Susan Haskell, an osteopath, is involved in the controversial telemed abortion process where women are only allowed to visit with a physician via a Skype video connection  before getting the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug. Afterwards, she presses a remote-controlled button that opens a box containing the abortion drug and the woman is given the drugs by an abortion center staffer, who may not be a licensed medical professional.

Operation Rescue complained to the IONM that webcam abortions violate state law saying abortions may only be performed by a physician, not with drugs handed to women by a nurse or staffer with no medical training. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland contended the method was legal and moved to dismiss the complaint the pro-life group filed with IOM.

The Des Moines register indicates the IOM sent a letter to Operation Rescue this week saying it would not sanction Haskell but it did not explain its reasoning, which is customary with IOM decisions.

“Although this may not be the outcome you were seeking, you can be assured that your complaint was investigated and the board reached its decision after full review of the investigative record,” the board’s executive director, Mark Bowden, wrote in the letter.

Bowden would not talk to the newspaper and cited a state law saying the board may not publicly discuss complaints against physicians unless they lead to formal charges.

“The politics of abortion are trumping the law and health and safety concerns for vulnerable women in Iowa, OR spokesman Troy Newman told after the decision. “Operation Rescue is calling for the resignation of Mark Bowden over this scandalous disregard for the law and women’s lives.”

The decision is not surprising givne that the pro-life group had concerns last year that the Iowa Board of Medicine tipped off Planned Parenthood officials to its request for documents related to the investigation, prompting a Planned Parenthood lawsuit. The abortion business has backed off the lawsuit, likely because of the IOM ruling.

“Based on conversations with Kent Nebel of the Iowa Board of Medicine, I believe that he improperly tipped off Planned Parenthood to the requests in order to allow Planned Parenthood time to file the suits,” said OR spokesowman Cheryl Sullenger. “Nebel told me personally that he was instructed by the Attorney General’s office to inform Planned Parenthood of the public records requests. There is nothing we can see in Iowa law that would mandate such notification.”

“It looks to us like Planned Parenthood still has a lot to hide. They were so afraid of the discovery phase in the law suits that they apparently decided it was better to allow the Iowa Board of Medicine to release the public information rather than allow us to ask them questions they did not want to answer,” said Sullenger. “We are still very concerned about the cozy relationships that exist between the Iowa Attorney General’s office, the Iowa Board of Medicine, and Planned Parenthood.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is currently under an ethics investigation for his part in blocking independent investigations into the abortions.

Last year, the IBM announced it would create a committee that would possibly study telemed abortions.