Pro-life doctors sounded the alarm Wednesday about the Biden administration’s effort to expand access to abortion pills, arguing that lifting restrictions will put the lives of pregnant women at risk.
Leaders of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) said the White House and leading medical groups are failing to warn the public about the dangers associated with allowing at-home chemical abortion medication to be delivered by mail without an in-person clinic visit.
“We need to protect our women patients from this push for DIY medication abortions,” Dr. Christina Francis, a board-certified OB/GYN in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the CEO-elect of the pro-life physicians’ group, said on a press call.
“This is dangerous,” she said. “This at-home use of these medications is dangerous for many reasons.”
Dr. Francis said women should undergo an in-person examination to determine how far along they are in their pregnancy before taking the pills.
“Women should also be screened for a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, which occurs in 1 in 50 pregnancies, preferably with an ultrasound,” said AAPLOG CEO Dr. Donna Harrison, a board-certified OB/GYN.
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“By not having an ultrasound, by allowing home use, you have 1 out of 50 women who are at risk of dying because the symptoms of a rupturing ectopic pregnancy are exactly the same symptoms as a Mifeprex abortion — pain and bleeding,” she said.
“There have been women who have called with pain and bleeding and they were told, ‘Honey, lay down and take a Tylenol,’ and they bled to death, because they had a rupturing ectopic pregnancy,” she said.
Their message ran counter to the White House push to increase access to at-home chemical abortions in reaction to red-state restrictions on the procedures taking effect in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion a federal constitutional right.
In December, the Food and Drug Administration allowed mifepristone and misoprostol, the two-part chemical abortion protocol, to be prescribed via telehealth during the pandemic, and then made the rules permanent.
The agency also required pharmacies that dispense mifepristone to be certified.
The FDA decision was cheered by a host of medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which called the new rules a “safe and effective regimen for medication abortion.”
“Decades of evidence and the consensus of the medical community underscore that mifepristone is a safe medication, the FDA requirements do not benefit patients, and the FDA requirements disproportionately burden communities already facing structural barriers to care, including people of color and those living long distances from a health care professional,” said ACOG leaders in a March 2022 statement.
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his department would seek to make abortion pills more available through the federal programs, citing a June 24 directive from President Biden.
“First, HHS will take steps to increase access to medication abortion,” he said. “Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in limited circumstances, including life of the woman, rape, or incest. Now more than ever it is imperative that all federally-supported programs and services are complying and providing this under the law.”
The pro-life doctors argued that the administration’s moves fail to take into account the risks associated with abortion pills as well as public opinion.
The organization released a poll Wednesday showing that 54% of registered voters “oppose unsupervised, at-home medication abortions,” while 30% support them, and 10% fell into the “depends/neutral” category.
The poll was conducted June 3-6 with 1,600 registered voters nationally. The margin of error was 2.45 percentage points.
The survey included a question about emergency-room visits due to chemical abortions. The group said that they increased 500% from 2002-15, citing its analysis of Medicaid claims data.
“That figure was before the FDA relaxed its rules, and with all of these restrictions in place, with women having to see a physician in person,” said Dr. Francis.
“So we know that these complications are only going to increase when you remove the physician from that process,” she said. “So we need to call for better healthcare for our patients. Women deserve better than what they’re receiving from the abortion industry. They deserve accurate information.”
Medication abortions accounted for more than half of all procedures for the first time in 2020.
A study by the National Academies of Sciences in 2018 found a “very low rate of serious complications,” according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.
But the pro-life doctors group also called for more extensive and accurate data collection on abortion.
States are not required to track or report their abortion statistics to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which releases an annual report on abortion data, and one of those that doesn’t is California.
The pro-life doctors also pushed back on what they described as “fear-mongering” from the pro-choice movement, such as raising concerns that doctors may not treat pregnant women for miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies for fear of violating red-state abortion laws.
“Women will not be in danger of not being able to be treated for ectopic pregnancy, for miscarriage, or even other life-threatening complications of pregnancy,” Dr. Francis said. “For those of us who are pro-life physicians, I can tell you, I’ve been in practice for 14 years. I have never, ever needed to perform an abortion, and yet I have been able to provide excellent health care for my patients.”
Dr. Francis accused pro-choice advocates of spreading disinformation and making women needlessly fearful.
“I think for people who are intentionally fear-mongering and spreading this false narrative that women are not going to be able to receive life-saving care. Not only are they blatant lies, but they’re also making women feel very fearful,” she said.
She also pointed to Catholic hospitals, which as a moral matter will not provide abortions regardless of what the state’s laws permit.
“Even with Roe, they were still taking care of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages without abortions,” she said. “What we’re talking about are elective, induced abortions.”
The 50-year-old pro-life physicians’ group has about 7,000 members, far fewer than the 60,000 who belong to ACOG, but Dr. Harrison said that more than 80% of OB/GYNs don’t perform abortions, an indication that they “vote with their scalpel.”
“The vast majority of us do not perform abortions. I don’t do it because I know it’s not health care,” she said.
She also urged people concerned about stricter abortion laws to read the bills’ language.
“Not one single one of them criminalizes a doctor for taking care of a patient in a life-threatening situation,” Dr. Harrison said. “This whole fear-mongering that’s being done is not in reference to reality. Read the actual text of the bills in your states.”