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Mifepristone Telemedicine Programs Gain Success at Drug’s 10th Anniversary in US

Tomorrow is the ten-year anniversary of the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, also known as RU-486 or the “abortion pill.” Marketed as Mifeprex in the United States, the pill, which is used to terminate a pregnancy in its early stages, has garnered new attention as abortion providers across the country consider establishing telemedicine programs similar to the one pioneered by Iowa Planned Parenthood. Introduced in 2008, the program has enabled Iowa clinics to administer the pill to about 1,900 women, according to the Associated Press Current Iowa law requires a licensed physician to be present for the administration of mifepristone, making it difficult for women lacking access to a doctor who perform abortions to obtain the drug. The Planned Parenthood of the Heartland telemedicine program enables women to receive the pill through a videoconference with a doctor. Patients must first undergo the required physical exam, blood test, medical history report, ultrasound, and counseling session, all administered in-person by a nurse. Then the physician and patient discuss the method through online video. The doctor then clicks a button on the computer which releases a drawer containing the medicine in front of the patient. Still in the company of the clinic nurse, the patient then takes the mifepristone with her doctor watching, and receives the follow-up drug, misoprostol, to take later. The success of the program appeals to other abortion clinics seeking to provide services for more women, particularly those in rural areas. Dr. Vanessa Cullins, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s vice president for medical affairs, told the Associated Press, “There are many affiliates that are carefully considering this option, within the confines of their state laws.” Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, has been advising those interested in the program to pursue legal representation to help construct a program that adheres to individual state law. She told the Associated Press that “there are states that have passed laws that make accessing abortion virtually impossible, and they will try to curtail use of telemedicine. But I think the genie is out of the bottle – technology marches on, regardless of the ways we human beings accept it or reject it.” The success and ease of the program, however, have also created opposition among anti-abortion activists. A review committee has been formed by the Iowa Board of Medicine in response to a complaint filed by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, alleging that the program does not meet the requirements of state law. However, the Board has not stated when it will make a ruling on the complaint. The Associated Press reports that mifepristone is currently used in about 15 percent of abortions in the United States. Mifeprex provides women with more privacy than a surgical procedure does because women are able to take the pill home. Mifepristone has also increased the accessibility of abortion. Among Planned Parenthood’s 322 clinics nationwide that provide abortion, almost half administer mifepristone, but do not offer surgery.

Sources:

Associated Press 9/27/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 6/11/10

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