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King injects anti-abortion measure into rural funding bill
U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron) successfully introduced an amendment to the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012, HR 2112, to prevent any appropriations made possible by the bill to be used for mifepristone, for any purpose.
In introducing his amendment, King made clear that the purpose was to prevent Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from accessing a $15 million line item contained in the bill for development of telemedicine services; however, the language of the amendment is extremely broad. It states that “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486, for any purpose,” which does not specifically target the telemedicine line item, but applies to any and all appropriations within the bill.
Mifepristone, marketed as Mifeprex, is used, in combination with a secondary drug known as misoprostol, to end an early pregnancy. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September 2000. It works by blocking a hormone called progesterone that is needed for a pregnancy to continue. It has been approved for use in most developed countries including Sweden and Britain.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland launched a pilot telemedicine program in Iowa that allowed a doctor to meet with a patient via videoconferencing equipment and prescribe and administer mifepristone. News of the telemedicine application has continued to infuriate state and national members of the anti-abortion community, who have unsuccessfully petitioned the Iowa Board of Medicine to discipline a doctor and end the practice.
“I applaud the House of Representatives for passing my important pro-life amendment today,” King said in a prepared statement following the late Thursday night vote.
“American taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize abortions, and federal telemedicine grants should not be used to enable abortion providers like Planned Parenthood to dispense the RU-486 abortion drug. My amendment ensures that no telemedicine grant money in the Agriculture Appropriations bill will be spent for any purpose that enables abortionists to perform ‘telemed abortions.’ Cutting off this source of funding for this procedure will save the lives of women and unborn babies.”
The amendment passed by a vote of 240 to 176, mostly along party lines. The Iowa delegation split specifically by party with Republicans King and U.S. Rep. Tom Latham voting in favor of the amendment and Democrat Reps. Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voting against.
It is highly unlikely that King’s language will be adopted by members of the U.S. Senate.
King’s press release noted that “reports indicate that 1,900 chemical abortions using this technology have been performed in Iowa alone.” According to a June report by the Omaha World-Herald, there were 2,666 chemical abortions in Iowa in 2009, but no distinction was made between services offered via telemedicine and in-person. In the same report, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland reports “more than 2,000″ telemedicine abortions since the program began a few years ago.
Since the Heartland affiliate serves both Iowa and Nebraska, the Nebraska legislature proactively approved a ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion services. Other states not serviced by the Iowa-Nebraska affiliate have also moved to prevent the use of telemedicine for abortion services in their states; however, no such bill has made its way through the Iowa Legislature.
In his introduction of the amendment, King said the “robo-Skype abortions” are “abhorrent” and “irresponsible.”
“We have had 14 deaths of moms that have come from this; 2,207 adverse events, 339 blood transfusions [and] 612 hospitalizations,” said King, offering no source for his statistics and implying that the statistics were based on the Iowa pilot telemedicine program. There have been no deaths experienced by women who have used the Iowa pilot telemedicine program.
“This is a dangerous drug,” he continued, “and to distributed it through robo-Skype abortions — I’m opposed to it philosophically for a lot of reasons, but practical minds who might disagree on the abortion issue should understand that this government should not be paying for it.”
Penny Dickey, a registered nurse and chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said that King is “exaggerating and misrepresenting national statistics” related to use of mifepristone.
“It is another far-fetched and extremist attack by Representative King on a woman’s access to legalized abortion,” Dickey told The Iowa Independent Friday.
If the public compares the complication rates of Mifepristone and other common medications like Tylenol, which counts for approximately 150 deaths per year, it becomes apparent, she said, that the abortion medication is safer than many drugs offered over the counter.
“In Iowa, Mifepristone has been a safe and effective option for a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy,” she said. “As with any medical procedure, there are risks of possible complications. However, abortion care is one of the safest procedures, and no deaths have occurred in Iowa.
“Anti-choice rhetoric like this does not help prevent unintended pregnancies, or reduce the need for abortion care. Abortion is an emotional subject and the decision process should be between a woman, her family and her doctor.”
In mid-January, King and other members of the U.S. House sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services asking if any federal monies earmarked for telemedicine development had been given to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers. According to King’s floor comments, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius responded to that inquiry, indicating that “they had issued several grants to Planned Parenthood; and these funds, as near as we can determine, are being used to provide telemedicine” abortions.
The Iowa Independent has requested a copy of the Sebelius response from HHS, but has not yet received the document or confirmation of such a document.
According to a list of program grantees from 2007 and 2008, the time period in which Planned Parenthood began offering chemical abortions via teleconferencing in Iowa, HHS provided funding to two Iowa grantees. One was the Iowa Medicaid Population Disease Management Demonstration through the Iowa Chronic Care Consortium and the other was the Midwest Rural Telemedicine Consortium through the Mercy Foundation. Information on the agency’s website also shows three additional Iowa programs that received Congressionally-directed funding specific to telemedicine. Two of the three are individual hospitals, and none are affiliated with Planned Parenthood.
King did face opposition to his amendment from U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, who noted that King was opposing to a legal drug that has met FDA requirements.
“I remember vigorous debates in this committee about the conditionality by which FDA would license this drug,” Farr said. “It is legal and available in all 50 states in the United States, in Washington, D.C., in Guam and in Puerto Rico. It’s a prescription drug which is not available to the public through pharmacies. Instead, its distribution is restricted to specifically qualified licensed physicians.
“Whatever controversy surrounded the introduction of RU-486 in the United States was settled years ago, and there’s no reason for this amendment other than to stir up the controversy over the reproductive rights of women. I think by the gentleman’s comments, you can see that’s what he’s trying to do.”
Watch King’s introduction of the amendment: