Iowa Planned Parenthood Backs Off Telemed Abortion Lawsuit

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2011   |   2:45PM   |   Des Moines, IA

An Iowa Planned Parenthood affiliate is backing off a lawsuit it filed against officials with the pro-life group Operation Rescue concerning telemed abortions in the state.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has filed a motion to dismiss its own lawsuit filed against OR staffer Cheryl Sullenger that was an attempt to block the Iowa Board of Medicine from releasing public information about four of their employees.

In August, the affiliate, that has the nation’s first abortion practitioner overseeing the new telemed abortion concept, filed suit against Operation Rescue to block a request for papers on the abortion practitioner’s medical license.

The documents, comprised of medical license applications that are a matter of public record in all states, were released by the Iowa Board of Medicine to Sullenger last week, three months after her initial request. At least two of the abortion practitioners are involved in Planned Parenthood’s webcam abortion pill distribution scheme, known as telemed abortions.

“While all the documents were heavily redacted – more so than we usually see with these kinds of records – we are grateful to our legal team, including Tom Brejcha of the Thomas More Society and Iowa attorney Mike Holzworth for working so hard to ensure that Planned Parenthood did not wrongfully conceal information that the public has a right to know,” the group told today in a statement. “This is a victory for everyone because it helps keep the government accountable to the people.”

Operation Rescue requested the medical license application for Planned Parenthood abortion practitioner Susan Haskell, an osteopath who is involved in the controversial telemed abortion process where women are denied an in-person visit with a doctor before getting the dangerous RU 486 abortion drug that has killed and injured women.

Instead, they speak with Haskell via a videoconference system and 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.

Iowa attorney Patrick Smith represented the Citizen’s Information Center and another requester, both from Massachusetts, which had made similar, independent requests. Both of those suits have been dismissed as well, OR officials noted.

OR filed an open records request for public documents related to Haskell, but was contacted by the Boston-based Citizen’s Information Center, a group that conducts research on the medical industry through public records.

It sent the pro-life group a copy of a lawsuit against the CIC by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed on August 9 in Polk County, Iowa, asking the court to enjoin the release of public records to the CIC. The CIC also sent the pro-life group a series of emails that it says clearly show its public records request was forwarded to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland by an Iowa Board of Medicine staff member.

The pro-life group was also concerned that the Iowa Board of Medicine tipped off Planned Parenthood officials to its request for the documents.

“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 Sullenger. “Mr. 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.”

The telemed abortion scheme has come under heavy criticism from pro-life groups, which have pressed the state government to conduct investigations about how Planned Parenthood may be violating state law, federal protocols and putting women’s health at risk.

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

“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.”

Attorneys for Operation Rescue are considering further legal action because the pro-life group is concerned certain political officials are putting politics ahead of protecting women.

Planned Parenthood’s attempt to block the papers came after the IBM announced it would create a committee that would possibly study telemed abortions.