On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with 19 other Republican senators, filed a letter with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for the abortion pill (mifepristone) to be banned from the U.S. market. The letter calls for the drug (used in nearly 40 percent of U.S. abortions) to be classified as an “imminent hazard to the public health.”
The letter followed Donald Trump’s move last week to reverse a federal district court ruling in July that allowed health care providers to mail abortion pills in an effort to avoid unnecessary and risky in-person pick ups in the midst of COVID-19.
“With COVID-19 raging across the nation … the Trump administration refuses to end its crusade to subject abortion patients and their families to entirely unnecessary exposure risks,” Julia Kaye, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement on August 26. “Forcing patients to travel during a pandemic just to pick up a pill is irrational and dangerous.”
Following the same path as Trump, the GOP letter blatantly attempts to tear down U.S. women’s reproductive rights—and attempted to mask the Republican crusade against women’s bodily autonomy as defending the lives of “vulnerable” women and children.
The letter argued—without evidence—that the drug has a “devastating impact … on American women and children,” “recklessly endanger[s] American women and children,” and has “devastating consequences” overall.
“According to FDA reporting, the abortion pill has taken more than 3.7 million preborn lives, caused 24 maternal deaths, and resulted in at least 4,195 adverse maternal reactions.”
An analysis of the FDA study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a collaborative research group with UCSF, helps to place these numbers in the relevant context.
In the past 18 years, 24 women out of 3.7 million have died after taking the abortion pill in the U.S. And even that number is not fully accurate; the FDA specified these deaths cannot be “causally attributed to mifepristone,” due to factors like preexisting health conditions and additional medications being taken.
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The abortion pill has allowed for almost 3.7 million successful abortions for women who may otherwise have been forced to turn to (actual) life-threatening methods; almost 70,000 women die from attempting unsafe abortions annually, worldwide. In fact, at 13 percent of all maternal deaths, unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.
The line of the GOP letter most dissected and rightly criticized by media outlets since its release was this:
“As you are surely aware, pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease.”
This being the primary argument to remove the abortion pill from the market, it seems prudent to note: In the U.S., the death rate for the abortion pill is .65 deaths per 100,000 medication abortions, according to ANSRH.
(This is, in fact, a generous number; if only deaths that appear to be related to the abortion are included, the number drops to .35 deaths per 100,000 medication abortions.)
The pregnancy-related death rate in the U.S. is 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. For Black women, it is 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The fact that the abortion pill causes less maternal deaths than live birth does (nearly 28 times over) should be particularly interesting to Sen. Cruz, as it is more dangerous to give birth in Texas—his home state and constituency—than in the rest of the majority of the developed world, from Poland to Libya.
In Texas, the maternal mortality rate is 18.5 deaths out of 100,000 live births.
Texas was one of the states which ruled in late March that abortions in which the mother’s life was not at risk were “not medically necessar[y].” Vice reported that, following this ruling, between March 20 and April 11, requests for the abortion pill in Texas went up by almost 94 percent.
It seems Senator Cruz should look a bit more closely at the needs of his constituency before continually attempting to damage reproductive rights in this country. Not to mention, a heavier use of the truth never hurts either.