Medical Journal Retracts Studies Showing Risks of Abortion Pill

The U.S. Supreme Court announced last month that oral arguments in the abortion pill case will be heard on March 26.

The decision in an upcoming Supreme Court case could determine whether mifepristone can be prescribed by telemedicine or sent through the mail.
The decision in an upcoming Supreme Court case could determine whether mifepristone can be prescribed by telemedicine or sent through the mail. (photo: Ivanko80 / Shutterstock)

A major medical publisher has retracted several studies that demonstrated the risks associated with using abortion pills, a move the authors are calling “baseless” and politically motivated.

Sage Journals this week posted a notice on its website that it had retracted three articles from 2019, 2021, and 2022, all of them originally published in the journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology.

Those articles identified what the authors asserted were risks associated with the usage of the abortion pill, including the finding that “ER visits are at greater risk to occur following a chemical rather than a surgical abortion.” 

James Studnicki, the vice president and director of data analytics at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, and Tessa Longbons, a senior research associate there, said in a joint statement to CNA on Wednesday that the retractions were “a baseless attack on our scientific research and studies.” 

“To date, Sage has advanced no valid objection to their findings and no legitimate reason for their retraction,” they said. “Instead, Sage’s actions undermine an organization whose research has been cited in major pro-life legal victories, such as the Dobbs decision and the AHM v. FDA case.”  

Sage Publishing said a reader filed a complaint about allegedly “misleading” data in the 2021 article. An “independent reviewer” subsequently determined that data presented in the article led to an “inaccurate conclusion” about the study’s findings.

Sage also alleged a conflict of interest due to nearly all of the authors of that article being affiliated with either the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Elliot Institute, and/or the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all of them pro-life groups. 

One of the article’s peer reviewers was also reportedly associated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. That individual also peer-reviewed the 2022 and 2019 articles, Sage said. 

Sage wrote that “two subject matter experts undertook an independent post-publication peer review of the three articles anew.” Sage claimed the reviewers discovered alleged “fundamental problems with the study design and methodology” of the studies, as well as purported “unsupported assumptions and misleading presentations.”

“Based on the results of the investigation, the post-publication peer reviews, and [Committee of Publication Ethics] standards, Sage and the journal editor retracted these articles,” the notice said. 

“Sadly, this incident points to a larger, newer phenomenon, which is that many of our scientific institutions and publications no longer stand in defense of open inquiry,” the authors told CNA on Wednesday. 

“Rather, we’re seeing a biased elite faction across the medical community with all the power attempting to suppress any research that cuts against their approved, pro-abortion narrative. Scientific research and publication should be grounded in science, not driven by ideology.”

Two of those studies were cited in U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s April 2023 preliminary ruling that found the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not follow proper testing and safety protocols when it approved the abortion drug in 2000. 

The U.S. Supreme Court announced last month that oral arguments in the abortion pill case will be heard on March 26. The decision in the case could determine whether mifepristone can be prescribed by telemedicine or sent through the mail. 

In addition to Kacsmaryk’s April 2023 ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2023 that the FDA must reinstate restrictions on abortion pills in place before 2016, most notably banning administering the pills through the mail or via telemedicine. 

Enforcement of Kacsmaryk’s decision was quickly stayed by the Supreme Court pending the outcome of the legal battle. The August 5th Circuit decision was likewise stayed by the high court’s earlier order.

Numerous restrictions on the abortion pill have been lifted over the years, including the FDA’s 2021 ruling that it did not have to be dispensed in person. 

Over the years, other restrictions on the drug have been removed. In 2016, the FDA determined that the drug can be used when a woman is pregnant with a child at 70 days’ gestation. Before 2016, the gestational limit was seven weeks. The FDA also decided in 2016 that non-physicians could prescribe the pill. 

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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