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Mainstream Media Mislead about a New Telemed-Abortion Study

by | Feb 16, 2024

By Michael New

On Thursday, the journal Nature published a study that purportedly shows that telemed chemical abortions pose few health risks. The study identified over 6,000 women who had obtained chemical abortion pills via telehealth.

It found that they had a complication rate similar to that of women who had obtained chemical abortions after an in-person medical exam. Unsurprisingly, this study quickly received sympathetic coverage from several mainstream media outlets including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Forbes, Bloomberg, and U.S. News and World Report.

The main methodological problem with the study is that it relies on survey data and therefore fails to track health outcomes from all of the women who had obtained chemical abortions.  Specifically, the study identifies over 6,154 women who had obtained them. However, it received a follow-up contact for only about 4,613.

That means that the researchers have no idea what happened to nearly a fourth of the women who had obtained chemical abortions via telehealth. That clearly biases the results, as women who suffered adverse effects after obtaining a chemical abortion would probably be less likely to respond to a follow-up survey.

Furthermore, taking the findings at face value, the study does find that many women suffer serious physical health consequences after obtaining chemical abortions. Specifically, the study found that 81 women visited emergency rooms and that 15 had serious complications. In addition to that, ten were hospitalized, six received blood transfusions, and two were treated for infections.

Unsurprisingly, all of the authors of the study work for groups that support legal abortion. One author even admitted she had a “competing interest” because she receives compensation from Danco Laboratories, a company that manufactures mifepristone, a drug used in chemical abortions. Additionally, one author works for California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

The other five authors are all affiliated with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a research center affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, that publishes studies sympathetic to legal abortion. None of the authors cited these professional affiliations as potential conflicts of interest.

The timing of the release of this study is unsurprising. On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case about the regulation of chemical abortions. The decision by the Biden administration’s FDA to allow women to obtain chemical abortion pills without an in-person medical exam is one of the policies that will be litigated. It should come as no surprise that a prestigious medical journal released a study claiming that telehealth abortions pose few health risks.

Overall, this is another example of the politicization of academic research. Last February, Nature published an editorial opposing this very litigation over FDA approval and regulation of chemical-abortion drugs. 

However, regardless of media spin, a body of academic research does find that chemical-abortion pills pose serious health risks. Separate studies using comprehensive data from Finland and the California Medicaid system find that chemical-abortion pills have a complication rate that is four times higher than that of surgical abortions.

Overall, pro-lifers should not be distracted by this study. Our concerns about the safety of unregulated chemical abortion drugs are rooted in the best interest of mother and child.

Editor’s note. This appeared at National Review Online and reposted with the author’s permission.

Categories: Abortion Pill