Deaths from medical abortions

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the dangers of medical abortions.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Abortionists for decades have used surgical procedures to kill babies in the womb. But in the last five years or so, prescription drugs have become increasingly popular. Abortionists prescribe Mifepristone, also known as Mifeprex, in 30 percent of abortions in the United States.

BASHAM: Abortion advocates claim medicine-induced abortions are safer for mothers. But Mifeprex comes with a laundry list of possible side effects. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the pill to try to lower those risks. But new numbers show just how ineffective those efforts are.

WORLD Radio correspondent Anna Johansen joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning, Anna.


BASHAM: The FDA released this report in March. What can you tell us about it?

JOHANSEN: The report is called an Adverse Events Summary. It’s an overview of all the known complications due to Mifeprex since it was rolled out in 2000. Now, that’s specifically talking about women who took Mifeprex to end a pregnancy. In total, the FDA reported 4,195 adverse events.

BASHAM: Adverse event sounds very clinical. What does that actually mean?

JOHANSEN: An adverse event is a serious complication, like an infection or extreme blood loss. More than 1,000 women who took Mifeprex had to be hospitalized. Almost 600 needed blood transfusions. 24 women actually died.

BASHAM: What is it about Mifeprex that causes these complications?

JOHANSEN: There are a lot of different ways Mifeprex can cause problems. When a woman takes the drug, it blocks progesterone in her body which makes the uterus lining break down. That means the baby’s going to die, and the woman is going to start bleeding. The bleeding can turn into a hemorrhage. That’s one of the most common problems. But the drug also changes the way your body operates, which opens the door to a whole slew of problems. For example, Mifeprex alters pH levels which makes it easier for certain types of bacteria to grow.

BASHAM: But abortion advocates claim Mifeprex is safe?

JOHANSEN: Yeah. Millions of women have used Mifeprex since 2000. So they say, well, most of the time it’s safe for the mother. But obviously there’s another side to it. Donna Harrison is an OB-GYN. She pointed out that women don’t take Mifeprex because they need it. It’s not a necessary unavoidable risk. This is her assessment.

HARRISON: We’re not treating anything. We’re simply killing unborn children… We’re actually giving you Mifeprex to kill your baby, and sometimes it kills you.

On top of that, she goes on to say that we might only be seeing about 5 percent of actual complications.

BASHAM: Why is that?

JOHANSEN: That’s because there are problems with the reporting process. First, the FDA gets about 95 percent of its reports from the drug’s manufacturer. And the manufacturer gets its reports from abortionists. But abortionists don’t see their patients for complications. They tell them to go to the emergency room if they have a problem. So abortionists don’t have accurate numbers to report in the first place.

BASHAM: So do emergency rooms track those numbers?

JOHANSEN: Not really. And that’s the second problem. When ER doctors record things for billing purposes, they use codes for hemorrhage or miscarriage—not abortion. So that skews results too.

BASHAM: Given the numbers we do have, what does this report mean for Mifeprex in the U.S.?

JOHANSEN: Abortion advocates are actually pushing to increase access to the drug. Right now, the California legislature is looking at a bill that would require college health centers to provide Mifeprex. But other states are working to educate people about how Mifeprex actually works.

BASHAM: What does that legislation look like?

JOHANSEN: Many doctors believe that it’s possible to reverse the effects of Mifeprex if a woman changes her mind within a day or so of taking the pill. So some states require doctors who provide Mifeprex to inform women about that option. And Congressman Mike Conaway of Texas just introduced a similar bill on the federal level for the first time, so we’ll see where that goes.

BASHAM: Anna Johansen is a WORLD Radio correspondent based in Chicago. Thanks for joining us today.

JOHANSEN: Thanks, Megan!

(Photo/Creative Commons,  Robin Marty) A package of the abortion-inducing drug Mifeprex.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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