Government regulation of the chemical abortion pill has changed dramatically in recent weeks.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, an abortion provider should not have to require that a pregnant woman be seen in person by medical staff in order to obtain abortion drugs. Even though it was the abortion industry challenging this existing regulation, not patients, the ruling by Maryland U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang stated that the “in-person requirements” posed a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking abortions. As a result, the ruling allows abortion businesses to sell abortion pills directly to pregnant women without any in-person evaluation.
Expanded access to chemical abortion pills was an important goal for the abortion industry even before the pandemic. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to make abortion pills available without a visit to the doctor. In 2008, telemed abortions became available in Iowa. During a telemed abortion, women obtain abortion pills after interacting with a physician remotely. As of 2019, Planned Parenthood was offering telemed abortions in 10 states.
Indeed, during the past 20 years, the abortion pill has become more common in the United States. Even though the overall U.S. abortion rate has been declining, the number of chemical abortions is increasing. According to the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute, the annual number of chemical abortions in the U.S. increased by over 400% between 2001 and 2017. Furthermore, the share of abortions committed with the abortion pill regimen increased from 5% to 39% between 2001 and 2018.
Despite this significant increase in the number of chemical abortions, there has been a profound lack of oversight for this lethal drug. The abortion pill was approved by the FDA in 2000 and became publicly available shortly thereafter. There was neither testimony nor legislative hearings about the health risks involved in chemical abortions. In addition to the more than 3.7 million children legally killed by the abortion pill, there is a significant body of research showing that chemical abortions pose serious health risks to women.
For instance, a 2015 study that appeared in Obstetrics and Gynecology analyzed comprehensive data from Medicaid billing records in California. It found that chemical abortions result in a complication rate 4 times higher than that of first-trimester surgical abortions. The risk of a major complication with a chemical abortion was nearly twice as high as the risk of a major complication with a first-trimester surgical abortion. Additionally, a 2009 study of over 42,000 women from Finland found that 20% of women who obtained chemical abortions experienced an “adverse event” afterward.
In the U.S., 4,195 adverse events have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration by abortion facilities, but the real number is likely much higher due to weak reporting mechanisms. Women who experience side effects are likely to seek treatment at emergency rooms, which are not required to report adverse events to the FDA, even assuming the patient discloses that she has ingested Mifeprex.
A recent survey of 1,200 people in the U.S. commissioned by the pro-life group Live Action shows that information about the abortion pill regimen significantly reduces public support for chemical abortions. The survey found that 45% of people initially thought the abortion pill should be available. Participants then watched a video that informed viewers of how the abortion pill works to end pregnancy, explaining that during a chemical abortion, a woman will experience heavy bleeding and likely encounter the remains of her baby. After the video, a plurality opposed the abortion pill, and net approval of the abortion pill regimen fell by 17 percentage points.
The video had the largest effect on those who were undecided on the issue of abortion. However, even people who self-identified as “pro-choice” were less likely to think that chemical abortions should be publicly available after viewing the video.
After the video, respondents were presented with additional information about Mifeprex, which is the FDA-approved drug that causes the chemical abortion. The information that caused the largest reduction in support for Mifeprex was that its online availability would endanger women by removing a medical diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy. This is especially salient considering that this month’s court ruling will now allow women to obtain chemical abortion pills without ever having to set foot in a clinic or meet with a medical professional.
Overall, as the number of surgical abortion facilities in the U.S. continues to decline, the abortion industry will continue its attempts to increase abortion pill sales. The public must be alert and proactive, urgently demanding the removal of this deadly drug from the U.S. market. The lethal dangers of the abortion pill must be better communicated to women, policymakers, and the public at large.
Lila Rose is the founder and president of Live Action, a national media movement dedicated to building a culture of life and ending abortion. Follow her on Twitter @LilaGraceRose. Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.