Fix PEPFAR Now to Prevent HIV Infections, Save Lives

Scott Swenson

The Senate is moving closer to a vote on PEPFAR, but there is still time to fix the bill allowing the work horse of prevention to pull the cart of treatment, lightening the load by reducing the number of people infected. Congress has burdened the horse with ideology, and put the cart in front.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is moving toward a cloture vote in the Senate, a vote that will determine whether the $50 billion reauthorization lives or dies. That same life or death question applies to millions of people in Africa, and comparing actual life or death in Africa to the political legacy of President Bush, as many people see PEPFAR as his greatest achievement, is appalling. Doubly so when the politicians and mainstream media refuse to demand fixes to PEPFAR’s problems. Like the rest of President Bush’s legacy, PEPFAR, as successful as it has been in part, is a go-it-alone strategy that has alienated much of the rest of the world’s public health community.

The reality is this: as successful as PEPFAR has been getting life-saving treatment to nearly two million people, it has failed to slow the infection rate because it has been hampered by unnecessary ideological restrictions. For every two people who receive treatment, five are newly infected with HIV, according to a letter from leading public health advocates circulating on Capitol Hill.

The current legislation will not change that.

At that rate of infection, fiscal conservatives like Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) are right to question the amount of money being spent and if it makes sense, because unless you stem the infection rate, no matter how many people get treated there will always be more than twice as many who don’t. Unless the bill is fixed to eliminate ideological provisions, touted by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that have hampered PEPFAR’s prevention efforts in its first five years, and promise more of the same if the current bill passes, PEPFAR will not be as successful in fighting HIV in Africa as it could be.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Unfortunately, that is not the heart of Sen. Kyl’s objections. He and other fiscally-conservative Republicans who’ve been blocking the bill have taken some heat in editorials recently for standing in the way of "the greatest foreign policy achievement since the Marshall Plan," according to PEPFAR supporters quoted in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Given the continued infection rates and failure to address PEPFAR’s flaws to turn the tide, the comparison to the Marshall Plan could only be accurate if Europe were still in shambles.

The Las Vegas Sun writes,

A small group of Republican senators, though, is spoiling the momentum
by arguing that the legislation costs too much and includes money for
unrelated poverty programs.

Poverty is indeed related to the spread of HIV and anyone who doesn’t get that yet isn’t paying attention. Poverty is at the heart of why prevention efforts are so challenging and must be changed, and why putting treatment ahead of prevention is the proverbial cart-before-horse problem. They must work together, and only prevention can ultimatley lessen the burden of treatment.

We should all celebrate the two million lives with us today that otherwise would not be because of PEPFAR treatment. The stark realities of those lives are documented beautifully in a special exhibition, Access to Life, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, sponsored by The Global Fund on AIDS. The photos tell the story of people from every imaginable walk of life, mostly women, often young, always on the margins — who because of treatment are alive today, working, raising families, educating others about HIV/AIDS.

Every Member of Congress should be forced to visit this exhibit before voting on PEPFAR, because as much as it speaks to the life-saving power of treatment, the exhibition also speaks truth about the need to set ideology aside in favor of reality-based education and prevention efforts, now. Had ideology not stood in our way for the first 25 years of the AIDS pandemic, many of these people might never have been infected in the first place. Prevention is and always will be the key to fighting HIV.

Christianity Today, yesterday lamenting the delays, wrote this,

Jon Kyl, the junior senator from Arizona, pretty much has sterling
conservative credentials and a "solidly conservative voting record" in
the words of the Almanac of American Politics.

So what is his beef with
the reauthorization of PEPFAR, perhaps the most relatively untarnished
legacy program of the Bush administration?

Certainly, sticker shock and mission creep are legit concerns. But here’s some op-ed commentary, published in the Tuscon Citizen:

Yet despite the program’s widespread support and irrefutable
success, Kyl and a handful of Republicans think the price tag of $50
billion over five years is too high. It would be one thing for legislators thing to balk at expanding a
program that had not delivered its intended results, but quite another
to stop one that works.

The Baltimore Sun said,

Republican leaders must rein in the conservative flank of their party
and put lives before votes. Otherwise, the president’s biggest
achievement abroad may come undone, and millions of children will
suffer the dire consequences

Most of these editorials also referenced that Bush needed PEPFAR to be passed before leaving for the G-8 Summit in Japan last week. That was great, if unsuccessful, spin and most people recognize that the agreements at the G-8 did not hinge on PEPFAR. In fact, as Jill Sheffield notes from the G-8 Summit, once again the world’s wealthiest nations continue to disappoint with regard to HIV:

Related language
in the whole health section of the final G-8 Communiqué is weak and
convoluted:

"G-8 will take concrete steps to work toward improving
the link between HIV/AIDS activities and sexual and reproductive health
and voluntary family planning programs, including preventing mother-to-child
transmission, and to achieve the MDGs by adopting a multi-sectoral approach
and by fostering community involvement and participation." Really,
couldn’t they have done better than "work toward improving"?

While the editorial writers have part of the PEPFAR story right, that there are conservative politicians putting roadblocks in the way of solid public health policy, they have completely missed out on the story of PEPFAR’s well documented problems and the fixes that are necessary. Rewire has been covering those problems extensively since negotiations began, noting that it is not just the fiscally conservative wing of the GOP that is causing delays, but the social conservative wing as well, insisting on ideological provisions like failed abstinence-only requirements, and using completely irrelevant issues like abortion to gain negotiating advantage over squeamish Democrats. These tactics have complicated negotiations and will prevent improvements to prevention efforts. At least the fiscal conservatives aren’t pretending they care about HIV/AIDS as the ideologues try to do, while ignoring public health realities.

But the PEPFAR spin-fest has been a bipartisan affair. The Democratic Majority has shirked its oversight responsibility to learn from the first five years of PEPFAR and improve efforts by applying proven public health strategies. Instead, they have acted more like a minority, allowing the negotiations to be handled between the fiscal and social conservative wings of the GOP in an effort to avoid dealing with social issues during an election year.

But even at this late hour, because of fixes required on the treatment side of the bill, it is possible for Congress to improve PEPFAR in order to slow the infection rate as well, which in the long term, could mean less money required for treatment once the spread of the disease is slowed.

Global public health advocates at the American Jewish World Service, Center for Health and Gender Equity, International Women’s Health Coalition, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US clearly articulate these improvements as:

  • Abolish arbitrary funding guidelines. In a 2007 report, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended removing the current PEPFAR requirement that one-third of prevention funds be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs. The Senate bill ignores the findings of this congressionally-mandated study and findings from the government’s own Accountability Office (GAO) about the ineffectiveness of this approach. The current bill calls for spending at least fifty percent of prevention funds designed to halt the sexual transmission of HIV, in countries with generalized epidemics, only on abstinence and faithfulness programs. PEPFAR recipients that do not meet this requirement must justify their programmatic decisions through an onerous reporting requirement to Congress, potentially facing defunding. Every individual needs a range of information and services to protect him or herself against HIV, and public health experts on the ground must be able to determine the best mix of prevention programming for their own communities. As it stands, their hands are tied by policies from Washington.

 

  • Support prevention strategies that reach the largest number of people. In most regions, the number of new infections is growing most rapidly among women and adolescents, primarily through sexual transmission. These two groups are more likely to use family planning and other reproductive health services than any other segment of the population, and would be better equipped to protect themselves from HIV if their access to reproductive health services and education was expanded. The U.S. government concluded that integrating family planning with HIV prevention and treatment services could double the effectiveness of programs to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to infants by expanding women’s choices about pregnancy and childbearing. Recent studies suggest that upwards of 90 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in countries such as Uganda and South Africa have unmet need for integrated family planning and HIV services. However, the current bill before the Senate fails to call for or even acknowledge the need to strengthen critical linkages between family planning and reproductive health services and HIV prevention efforts.

 

  • Remove the unconscionable “conscience clause.” The 2003 PEPFAR legislation contains a provision that enables organizations receiving U.S. funding to pick and choose the prevention and treatment services they wish to provide. Millions of dollars go to organizations to provide prevention services, even though they refuse to discuss the potential of condoms or other contraceptives in preventing the spread of HIV. As abstinence and partner reduction programs have outpaced programs that enable individuals to have all the information they need to prevent HIV, the law stands in the way of effective use of resources. The Senate bill takes this bad policy and makes it worse by extending the so-called “conscience clause” to organizations that provide care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS, their families and their communities. This provision paves the way for taxpayer-funded discrimination based on “moral” and religious grounds leaving it wide open to refuse care to someone based on their religion, how they got infected or any other basis. The refusal clause is another damaging provision that flies in the face of good public health practice.

 

  • Eliminate the prostitution pledge. Current law requires groups fighting HIV/AIDS overseas to pledge their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking before receiving U.S. money. Sex workers are among the most marginalized people in every country and often lack access to social and health support systems. Prevention programs that have reached sex workers through first building trust have yielded dramatic reductions in HIV infections among these populations. Some continue to believe that having organizations sign such a pledge will help end prostitution, but in reality, the opposite may be true. According to numerous reports, the pledge has led to further alienation of already-stigmatized groups and given free rein to police and resulted in further discrimination against women in sex work. Instead of reducing dependence on sex work, the policy is driving sex workers under ground and away from the non-governmental organizations and health workers best poised to help them and to prevent HIV.


This bill will set the policy for the United State’s global HIV/AIDS programs. As the cloture vote approaches, and assuming it passes, there will still be opprotunities to set better policy on how we spend $50 billion over the next five years. There are concerns on both sides of the aisle, and the Senate should take those issues on, vote on them, and pass a bill that has the greatest impact in saving lives.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”