Analyzing Pro-Life Headlines: “The Abortion Pill is Safe? 22 Women Have Died, 411 Got Infections, and 1,041 Women Hospitalized”

Hold it, pro-life news article!

On March 28, the FDA updated its report on the abortion pill, Mifepristone (aka. RU-486). It was only recently that pro-life news sites have put their own spin on the data, including this Life News article “The Abortion Pill is Safe? 22 Women Have Died, 411 Got Infections, and 1,041 Women Hospitalized”.

“Women’s health groups claim that abortion, and particularly the abortion pill, is safe, but data shows that abortion-inducing drugs are not risk-free.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Whole Women’s Health and other abortion providers contend that abortion is safe and that attempts to educate women about the risks of abortion are disingenuous ploys intended to restrict abortion access.”

Interestingly, the link provided under “disingenuous ploys” leads to a section of the NARAL website detailing how pro-life crisis pregnancy centers often deceptively present themselves as legit health providers and have given women false information on their pregnancy options. The introduction for the section says, “A woman facing an unintended pregnancy deserves medically accurate, comprehensive, and unbiased information.” Planned Parenthood states that, “Medication abortion is very safe. Serious problems are rare, but like all medical procedures, there can be some risks.”

It appears the article suffers from a case of pro-life selective information by purposely leaving out certain pieces of information—in this case, by insinuating that pro-choice groups are against any education risks of abortion. What should have been stated was, “Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Whole Women’s Health and other abortion providers contend that abortion is safe and that attempts by pro-life organizations to educate women about the risks of abortion are disingenuous ploys as these groups often give inaccurate information intended to restrict abortion access.”

The article’s title lists actual numbers provided by the FDA report, possibly in order to rile up pro-life supporters without them having to read the article or the report. Twenty two women dying after taking the abortion pill does quite shocking because the article title lacks context. When did these women die? This week, this month, this year? The answer is “since the product was approved in September 2000.” These are numbers taken between September 29, 2000 and December 31, 2017—17 years, 3 months, and 3 days.

22 deaths, 411 infections, and 1041 hospitalizations in 17 years, 3 months, and 3 days!

This is assuming the adverse effects were somehow directly related to the abortion pill. The FDA notes, “The adverse events cannot with certainty be casually attributed to Mifepristone because of concurrent use of other drugs, other medical or surgical treatments, co-existing medical conditions, and information gaps about the patient health status and clinical management of the patient.”

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the deaths and adverse events were a direct result of taking Mifepristone to terminate a pregnancy. Let’s do some math!

According to the report, it’s estimated that 3.4 million women have used the abortion pill since its approval. There have been 22 deaths reported following use of the abortion pill.

(# of deaths / total # of women that have used the abortion pill) x 100 = death rate %

(22 / 3,400,000) x 100 = .000647058823529%

That number looks extremely low. That is a 1 in 154,545 chance of death after using the abortion pill. Women have a better chance of dying from pregnancy (1 in 3,800) than terminating a pregnancy with the abortion pill and dying.

I was going to do a visual representation of the death rate, but the large number of women that have used Mifepristone VS the extremely low death rate made this impossible. The visual representation would be like taking the total length of 31 football fields with end zones included (technically, 30.9856481 football fields) to represent the total number of women that have used the abortion pill and showing that a little over 27/32 of an inch would represent the women that died after using the pill.

Let’s calculate the death numbers in with the rest of the women that suffered adverse effects after taking the pill.

Cases with adverse effects: 4,185

Hospitalizations, no deaths: 1,041

Blood loss, requiring transfusion: 598

Infections: 411

Ectopic pregnancies: 97

Death: 22

(# of adverse effects / total # of women that have taken the abortion pill) x 100 = adverse effects %

(6,354 / 3,400,000) x 100 = .19%

Not 19%. Point 19 percent. Meaning it’s just below 1/5 of 1%. That’s about 1 in 535 chance of suffering adverse side effects after taking the pill.  Not as low as the death rate, but still extremely low. In our hypothetical 31 football field visual, almost 7 yards would represent the women that suffered adverse effects, including death, after taking the pill.

The pro-life movement is already making the risks of Mifepristone much bigger than they actually are, but there’s more to the report than what pro-life news sites are reporting. The article completely failed to mention a particular footnote on the report itself. It reads: “The fatal cases are included regardless of causal attribution to mifepristone [emphasize added]” followed by the causes of death in each case. Its exclusion from the article may not be a simple oversight. Other pro-life articles on the FDA report have also failed to show this footnote. Live Action showed screenshots of the adverse events summery, but cut out the footnote explaining the causes of death. Its likely pro-life news neglected to mention this footnote as some causes of death occurred after taking the pill yet couldn’t be attributed to the pill (or are at least debatable).

Top: the FDA’s lengthy footnote regarding the causes of death in women that have taken Mifepristone. Bottom: Live Action’s screenshot of the report with the footnote cut out. 

Causes of death include:

Sepsis x8

Ruptured ectopic pregnancies x2

Substance abuse/drug overdose x1

Methadone (a type of opioid) overdose x1

Drug intoxication x1

Suspected homicide x1

Suicide x1

Delayed onset of toxic shock-like symptoms x1

Hemorrhage x1

Unintentional overdose resulting in liver failure x1

Drug overdose of undetermined intent and cardiac arrest x1

Combined drug intoxication/overdose x1

A case of natural death due to severe pulmonary emphysema x1

One unknown case of death despite autopsy (tissue samples tested negative for C. sordellii) x1

At least three of these deaths—methadone overdose, suspected homicide, and natural death due to a lung disease—could not have been caused by the abortion pill or the abortion itself. This would mean the actual number of deaths that could have been caused by Mifepristone is 19.

In the other five cases where overdose is the cause of death, the drug that caused the overdose is not stated. It does seem possible to overdose on Mifepristone. However, Mifepristone has to be administered in a medical setting by a healthcare professional so an overdose by the pill is unlikely. Assuming these deaths cannot be attributed to the abortion pill and were caused by other drugs, the number of deaths would be 14.

Pro-life groups could argue the suicide was a result of the woman being mentally traumatized by her abortion—and that may very well be the case—but it’s debatable without knowing the woman’s health history or what she was feeling after terminating her pregnancy.  The case where the cause of death wasn’t determined despite an autopsy is also debatable. Excluding these deaths would bring the number down to 12.

What’s the death rate for 12-19 deaths in 17+ years?

19 deaths: (19 / 3,400,000) x 100 = .00055882% (1 in 178,947 chance of death)

14 deaths: (14 / 3,400,000) x 100 = .00041176% (1 in 242,557 chance of death)

12 deaths: (12 / 3,400,000) x 100 = .00035294% (1 in 283,333 chance of death)

Whether its 12 or 22, the death rate is extremely low. The overall risks of complications are extremely low as well. Regardless of the number of women whose deaths can or cannot be attributed to Mifepristone or complications arising from the abortion itself, women deserve to know the risks of abortion even if they are rare, which seems to be the case when it comes to abortion via Mifepristone.

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