Lies and Hypocrisy: Anti-Abortion Arguments to Restrict the Abortion Pill

The anti-abortion movement has fought a long-standing battle against access to the abortion pill. In the 1980s, they threatened to boycott drug companies developing the drug. In the 1990s, they waged a campaign to block FDA approval of the pill; although finally approved in late 2000, severe restrictions were placed on distribution of the pill by the FDA. 

After research showed that a lower dosage of 200 mg—instead of 600 mg—was just as effective and caused fewer side effects, and that the drug could be used safely later into pregnancy—until 70 days instead of 49—anti-abortion advocates pressured the FDA for years to maintain the higher dosage and shorter timeline for usage of the pill. 

Under the Obama administration, the FDA finally approved the lower dosage and longer timeline in 2016, but today the anti-abortion movement is pressing the Trump administration to rescind those changes and even more severely tighten restrictions on the abortion pill. 

Through these campaigns to suppress the usage of the abortion pill, anti-abortion advocates have spread misleading and false information about the safety and efficacy of the abortion pill.

A glaring contemporary example of this strategy is the right-wing Family Research Council (FRC)’s recent report, titled “The Next Abortion Battleground: Chemical Abortion.”  

Founded in 1983 as a division of James Dobson’s religious right organization Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council is now one of the far right’s most powerful advocacy groups, fighting against abortion, stem cell research and LGBTQ equality, and promoting “the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free and stable society.” 

The Family Research Council (FRC) bills itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power,” but its real specialty is defaming LGBTQ people. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

The FRC’s “chemical abortion” report is full of lies and misrepresentations, citing discredited research and junk science. The report uses inflammatory and misleading language, and is replete with hypocritical arguments.

Inflammatory and Misleading Language

One way FRC tries to mislead the public is by using inflammatory and alarmist language. 

For example, they use the phrase “chemical abortion” to make abortion pills sound dangerous—when in fact they are very safe


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Throughout the report, they refer to embryos and fetuses as babies, and they describe misoprostol as a drug that “‘yanks’ the baby out” of the womb. They refer to medication abortion as a “violent regimen.” Their language is misleading and overwrought.

The FRC report repeatedly refers to the “abortion industry”—an attempt to make doctors and other clinicians providing abortion health care sound nefarious and exploitative.

This extreme and inflammatory language demonizes people providing and having abortions. But FRC goes farther. They explicitly lie about the risks of medication abortion.

Lies and Misrepresentations

The FRC report is riddled with misrepresentations and outright lies about the safety of medication abortion. They claim that the abortion pill poses “profound dangers” to women. In fact, mifepristone is an extremely safe drug.

The FRC plucks from the mifepristone medication guide the rarest but most severe drug reactions and frames them as common. FRC cites discredited research and junk science, making the false claim that abortion causes depression, and then claims, without evidence, that medication abortion is “uniquely traumatic” to women, more so than aspiration abortion.

FRC inaccurately claims that mifepristone is “subject to the FDA’s drug safety program—Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS)—because it carries such life-threatening risks.” In fact, mifepristone is subject to the REMS restriction because of politics, not safety concerns. Mifepristone is six times safer than Viagra—which the FDA does not restrict under the REMS program. 

The REMS restriction means that mifepristone cannot be distributed through pharmacies like most other drugs. Instead, only doctors registered with the manufacturer can dispense the pill to their patients.

Throughout the report, the FRC inaccurately argues that removing the FDA REMS restriction would lead to the abortion pill being available over the counter, “making do-it-yourself abortions the norm.” In fact, in the absence of the REMS restriction, the abortion pill would be treated like most other drugs—available at pharmacies by prescription, under the supervision of a doctor.  Simply removing the FDA REMS restriction would not result in “do-it-yourself” abortion.

FRC’s Agenda

At the end of their report, the FRC calls on the FDA to strengthen restrictions on the abortion pill, prohibit telemedicine abortion and require doctors to conduct unnecessary physical examinations of patients receiving the abortion pill. These barriers would significantly decrease access to medication abortion and increase the costs.

FRC also calls for the criminal prosecution of Rebecca Gomperts of AID Access, who assists people in obtaining and using the abortion pill, as well as cracking down on online pharmacies that sell the pill.

Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts has provided medical abortions to thousands of Americans. She’s not letting the FDA get in her way. (Yale)

Finally, they call for shutting down Gynuity Health Projects’ TelAbortion study, which allows an exception to the REMS restriction in certain states.

In fact, they are terrified of the power and control that the abortion pill puts into women’s hands. They hate the way that medication abortion can avoid the obstacles and restrictions they have constructed over the last 47 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States.

A cheap, widely accessible abortion pill that women could obtain through the mail and take in the privacy of their own homes would mean anti-abortion extremists would lose the opportunity to harass and yell at women going into and out of clinics, terrorizing them with their abuse.

Demanding Change

The National Women’s Health Network is leading a campaign to raise awareness about the FDA restrictions on the abortion pill, pressure the FDA to lift the restrictions, and make the abortion pill more widely available. You can find resources for the campaign on their website, which they encourage people to share widely using the hashtag #MailTheAbortionPill.

Public policy must be based on medical science and genuine concern for women’s health—not on the lies, misrepresentations and hypocrisy of hate groups like the Family Research Council.  


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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is a Professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the U.S. Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race, and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015. Baker is the President of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts.