Congress targets abortion for the second week in a row on Thursday, when the Senate is expected to debate an amendment recently filed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to an appropriations bill related to agriculture, commerce, science, transportation and housing and urban development. DeMint's amendment, if successful, would bar discussion of abortion via telemedicine, the practice in which a doctor and patient communicate remotely, via, for example, satellite, video-conference or the Internet.
Abortion via telemedicine in general refers to doctors who authorize the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs to women in rural areas with no access to abortion clinics. These abortions generally involve mifepristone, commonly referred to as RU-486, which is generally used in conjunction with a secondary drug misoprostol to end an early pregnancy. Both drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In a statement released Tuesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan expressed concern that banning discussion of or reference to abortion could have negative health impacts on women who live in rural areas who then experience "high-risk" pregnancies.
“Under Sen. DeMint’s extreme plan, if abortion came up in that doctor-patient conversation, the woman and her physician would have to go to a separate communications system," Keenan said. "He’s calling for an abortion-only version of Skype. It is impractical, ridiculous, and, most importantly, bad for women in rural or remote areas who would not be able to discuss the full set of options with their doctor.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider in 2008.
DeMint's amendment is similar to one Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced to the related related House Resolution 2112, or the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012, which passed through the House in June.
During the House floor debate, King said one his intentions was to prevent Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from accessing a $15 million line-item in the bill reserved for the development of telemedicine services.
As The American Independent's sister site The Iowa Independent previously reported, the language of King's amendment -- “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486, for any purpose” -- does not specifically target the telemedicine line-item but applies to any and all appropriations within the bill.
“We have had 14 deaths of moms that have come from this; 2,207 adverse events, 339 blood transfusions [and] 612 hospitalizations,” said King on the House floor in June, but, as The Iowa Independent noted, he offered no source for his statistics. No deaths have been reported by women who have used the Iowa pilot telemedicine program -- administered by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland -- to which King was referring.
On Monday, LifeNews.com, which focuses on abortion-related issues, reported the same statistics King relayed to his colleagues, citing an FDA report (PDF). The report, which was uploaded by the Family Research Council, reveals information from U.S. post-marketing reports received by the FDA and documents "adverse events" that occurred among patients who had taken mifepristone for abortions.
"Because FDA has eliminated duplicate reports, and in some cases, reclassified the adverse event terms for individual cases after reviewing the narrative details," the report notes, "the numbers provided here may differ from the numbers of the reports that may be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. These events cannot with certainty be causally attributed to mifepristone because of information gaps about patient health status, clinical management of the patient, concurrent drug use and other possible medical or surgical treatments. The estimated number of women who have used mifepristone in the US through the end of April 2011 is approximately 1.52 million women."