3 Major Abortion Pill Myths to Be Aware of Right Now

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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“The abortion pill remains unnecessarily over-regulated,” Ashley Jeanlus, MD, ob-gyn and assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, tells SELF. She says the initial label changes made by the FDA in 2016, including the increase of the gestational age limit to 10 weeks, were “consistent with medical evidence.”

And the agency’s decision to ease in-person dispensing restrictions during the height of the pandemic—remember: a public health emergency—was fueled by the advocacy of top medical organizations: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), with support from the Society for Maternal–Fetal Medicine, legally challenged the FDA to stop enforcing its in-person dispensing requirement so that people who needed abortion care did not have to risk “avoidable COVID exposure to themselves and their clinicians.”

The updates to mifepristone access weren’t just a quick check of a box—they reflected careful (and necessary) consideration of ongoing safety data, the overarching consensus of the medical community, and the health care needs of hundreds of thousands of people during an unprecedented global health crisis.

Myth #2: Mifepristone poses serious safety risks.

Reproductive health specialists have long argued that mifepristone’s in-person dispensing requirement does not make abortion care safer; isn’t based on scientific evidence or medical need; prevents both doctors and patients from accessing the medication during early pregnancy loss; and disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, including people of color and folks living in health care deserts.

Verda J. Hicks, MD, the president of ACOG, shared a statement following the oral arguments that kicked off in the Supreme Court yesterday—and she didn’t mince words: “Decades of data have consistently demonstrated that mifepristone is safe and effective for both medication abortion and management of early pregnancy loss. In fact, over time, additional clinical study of mifepristone has led to an improved regimen with an even better safety and efficacy profile,” she said. “The supposed harms of mifepristone have not been substantiated or have been intentionally misrepresented by opponents of abortion in an effort to limit access to a safe and effective drug.”

The statement also pointed out that the case is based on bogus research, and that “the overwhelming majority” of mifepristone’s potential side effects—like bleeding, cramps, and pelvic pain—are “easily treatable or require no additional intervention at all.”

To be totally transparent, the FDA has received 32 reports of deaths associated with mifepristone since the drug was first approved more than two decades ago. But the medication itself was not attributed as the cause of these deaths; the use of other drugs and medical treatments, co-existing conditions, and gaps in understanding patients’ health statuses were all variables that could have played a role.

“We know that this medication is extremely safe,” Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, MPH, a researcher and core faculty member at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, tells SELF. “In the largest, most rigorous studies, the serious adverse event rate is one-third of 1%.”

Myth #3: Mifepristone complications send a lot of people to the hospital.

Dr. Upadhyay conducted a study in 2015 that examined 54,911 medication and surgical abortions. Among all abortions, one out of 16 were followed by a visit to an emergency department within six weeks, but only one of 115 hospital visits were for an abortion-related complication. In fact, the major complication rate was only 0.31% for medication abortion.

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