Congressman Challenges Controversial Abortion Procedure

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King circulated a letter seeking support for an investigation into the funding of "telemed" abortions. The procedure allows a woman to meet with a doctor via teleconference and receive an abortion-inducing pill, via a remote-controlled drawer. About two-thousand abortions have been conducted via telemedicine during the last two years in Iowa. Host Michel Martin speaks with Representative King about his concerns regarding telemed abortion funding.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we have another perspective from Republican Congressman Steve King. He represents the 5th District of Iowa. As we just heard, that's the only state where telemed abortions are currently performed. He recently circulated a letter to his congressional colleagues earlier this month seeking support for an investigation into the funding of telemedicine abortions. And he's with us now from the House studios at the House of Representatives. Thank you so much for joining us, Congressman King.

Representative STEVE KING (Republican, Iowa): Well, thank you for having me on. I appreciate it, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, you heard Dr. Cullins, she says that this is completely safe. This is in keeping with other procedures or medical services that are delivered this way. And tell me why don't agree.

Rep. KING: Well, I heard her say that, you know, there's no evidence that telemedicine abortions are in any way dangerous. And there are a number of statements out there that were blanket statements that I think aren't supported by the facts.

So I just took a look when I heard that. And according to the Associated Press, the manufacturer of RU-486, which is Danco Laboratories, they say this - their product, RU-486 is effective, not 100 percent of the time, as the doctor said, but 95 percent of the time, according to the manufacturer. And with surgical procedures needed in most of the other cases to end the pregnancy or stop heavy bleeding.

And so, Planned Parenthood itself, quoted, "The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledge," and I quote, "about 92 percent of women will complete their RU-486 induced abortion without the need for a vacuum aspiration," close quote. So that means 8 percent do. That's a high percentage of complications. And to argue that she meets the doctor through Skype - you don't go to the doctor through Skype, that's not medical practice. That's not medical service.

MARTIN: Let me just stop you. First of all, Representative King, I just wanted to mention that RU-486 is no longer that is used. It's actually - it's called something else now. It's called methopristone. Just to clarify for people who -just to be sure that everybody knows what we're talking about.

Rep. KING: Yeah. I think they understand RU-486. I'm going to have to learn that other one. But I understand, and I appreciate you saying so.

MARTIN: But I wanted to ask two things: Do you object to all medical services being delivered in this fashion, which is - you heard Dr. Cullins say - a particularly of interest to people who live in rural areas where any doctor providing any service may be far away. And is there a specific issue here that you just don't think abortion should be provided this way or at all, for that matter?

Rep. KING: Well, I've actually supported some of the things that are possible through telemedicine. Monitoring the systems in intensive care units, for example, some of that, specialists can work pretty well. I don't want to speak to the whole medical industry. I'm speaking only to this procedure that I'm going to have to call it RU-486 because I can't remember the other name.

MARTIN: Sure.

Rep. KING: And, you know, the argument that this is - provides services to people that live in rural areas, and it does so at a Planned Parenthood clinic, that's not true in Iowa. I know that's not true in Iowa. I represent 32 counties in western Iowa, 286 towns. And you go to a Planned Parenthood clinic, they are in the cities, not the towns.

So, when you go to the clinic and sit down in front of their Skype operation, you have gone to a metropolitan center. It is not a service for rural people.

MARTIN: But is it - I'm sorry, I just wanted to clarify, though, is it reasonable to say that your main objection is you don't think abortion should be provided at all and that you particularly think this method of delivery, is it inappropriate in general? It's particularly inappropriate in this case.

Rep. KING: I believe that life begins at the instant of conception and human life is sacred in all of its forms. I'm addressing the law and I'm addressing, also, FDA regulations at which this method that they are pioneering in Iowa violates Iowa law in my view. Certainly the intent, if not exactly the letter of the law, it's a means to circumvent it.

And I believe it directly violates the FDA's regulations that requires that the drug, and I quote, "be provided by or under the supervision of a physician who meets the following qualifications: They have an ability to assess pregnancy, ability to diagnosis ectopic pregnancies and ability to provide surgical intervention in cases of incomplete abortion or severe bleeding." If they're remote, they can't do that.

MARTIN: And, finally, I did want to ask you about the question of taxpayer funding. Your letter, which you're circulating to colleagues and which you hope to deliver tomorrow, was addressed to Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. And last week in an interview with The Hill, she said there is no taxpayer funding for abortion. Do you simply don't believe her?

Rep. KING: Well, I need to get a real response from the letter that we have written and she may say that and she may not know that at this point. I've dealt with the administrations here of a couple of different presidents over the last eight years. And sometimes you have to ask exactly the right precise question and then have an opportunity for a follow-up.

What I'm asking is that Congress appropriate $11.6 million to provide support for telemedicine. I want to know if any of that is going to any organization that provides abortion services or counseling. And if any of that is going into their telemedicine initiative.

And I will tell you that money is (unintelligible). When that money goes into an organization like Planned Parenthood, if those dollars don't directly go to something like this Skype abortion proposal that they have, the technique which is being pioneered in Iowa, if it doesn't go there, then it goes into another fund that frees up dollars.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. It's obviously a complex and important question and we do appreciate you taking the time to join us.

Rep. KING: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Steve King of Iowa. He represents the 5th District. He joined us from the studios at the House of Representatives. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rep. KING: Thank you.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.