The AIDS Crisis in the United States: Will the Obama Administration Meet the Challenge?

Julie Davids and David Munar

The National HIV Prevention Conference opens at a time when healthcare reform and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy are seen as potential game-changers.

On August 23rd, 2009, the first major HIV/AIDS gathering of the Obama Administration began, promising much debate and new data on approaches to HIV prevention. But critical questions loom over the meeting: Will the depth and breadth of the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta and the first town meeting on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy be overshadowed by devastating cuts to prevention programs in a time of economic crisis, threats to health care reform and HIV care funding, and the lingering ghosts of the anti-science, anti-choice Bush years?

This week, Rewire is partnering with the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, among others, to cover the conference, and to raise issues about the domestic AIDS crisis.  We start here with an overview from Julie Davids and David Munar on the twin challenges of  re-inventing HIV prevention and  the need to bolster the pillars of a comprehensive approach to HIV and health care, both of which, the authors argue, must be embraced by the Federal government and its partners if we are to turn back the relentless pace of new infections in our nation.

Throughout the conference, correspondents from the HIV Prevention
Justice Alliance will lay out the issues of the day and share the
concerns and insights of people living with HIV and their allies.

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As members of the new Administration open their first
federal scientific gathering on HIV/AIDS six-months into the Presidency of
Barack Obama, they face a mix of high expectations and serious challenges
facing HIV-fighting efforts in the U.S. 
AIDS advocates are poised to assess the course on HIV/AIDS charted by the
Administration and attempt to apply their influence.


Dr. Kevin Fenton, of the CDC, answers some frequently asked questions about HIV transmission.

More than 3,000 scientists, service providers, public
officials and advocates have joined in downtown Atlanta for the National
Conference on HIV Prevention
(NHPC) sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With
the newly appointed heads of the Department of Health and Human Services,
Kathleen Sebelius, and CDC Director Tom Frieden welcoming delegates today,
the conference opened last night (August 23rd) with a panel of speakers who are all living with
HIV, including Magic Johnson and a member of this reporting team, David Ernesto
Munar of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (see his remarks here).

The conference marks just over a year since CDC officials,
presenting at the International Conference on AIDS in Mexico City,
unveiled stark new data suggesting the annual number of HIV infections in the
U.S. is 40 percent higher than previously estimated
, with African Americans
shouldering the greatest number of new cases and rates still on the rise among
gay and bisexual men of all races. 
Based on its new calculations, CDC says that an estimated 56,300 people
become infected with HIV each year, far greater than the long-standing, prior
estimate of 40,000 annual infections.

HIV prevention providers and advocates are prepared to use
the conference to highlight a range of economic and political issues undermining the fight against HIV and AIDS, calling for a greater focus on prevention through efforts
to strengthen the “pillars” of a comprehensive, combination approach grounded
in access to healthcare; integration and expansion of voluntary HIV testing,
prevention and treatment; and long-overdue attention to social inequalities
that can further the spread of new infections.  Advocates also are seeking to be at the table to ensure a steady focus on HIV, and to help set this Administration’s priorities for fighting HIV, especially given so many competing challenges. 

Health Reform as HIV
Prevention

In her August 24 address to the conference (this morning), U.S. Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is expected to describe the
transformational impact comprehensive national health reform could have on
efforts to end the epidemic. 

With one-half of all people with HIV in the U.S. estimated
to lack access to HIV-related healthcare, health insurance reform could accelerate
efforts to control the epidemic, helping greater numbers of people with HIV
improve their lives. 

For HIV prevention efforts, provisions currently in
legislation before Congress to create a Public Health and Wellness program to
finance community and public health activities could prove critically
important.  Moreover, a
standardized benefits package, greater protections and choices for insurance
beneficiaries, access to voluntary health screenings, and an array of essential
services—such as prevention, detection, and treatment of Sexually Transmitted
Infections—could have enormous HIV prevention benefits.  Likewise, efforts to ensure that more
people with HIV receive the HIV medical care and treatments they need could
reduce “community-level viral load,” meaning that the much lower level of virus
in the bodies of people living with HIV, thanks to effective treatment, could
have a population-level impact resulting in fewer HIV transmissions overall.

Of course, the battle lines on healthcare have been drawn and
a contentious legislative fight is expected next month when Congress returns
from August recess.  Among the many
provisions in jeopardy is the fate of the public insurance option desperately
needed to ensure people with HIV and other chronic health conditions have at
least one high-quality plan configured to meet their needs.

And as reported on Rewire last week,
another thorny issue yet to be decided is to what extent public and private
plans may cover (or beneficiaries who purchase coverage with a federal subsidy
may receive) reproductive health services.  Any efforts to reduce access to reproductive health care
(including access to condoms and reproductive health education) would disadvantage
beneficiaries in efforts to protect themselves and others from HIV
transmission. 

Toward a Strategic
Approach

Health reform will fold into another spotlight topic at this
week’s conference: recommendations for the White House-led National HIV/AIDS
Strategy (NHAS).

As a candidate and early in his presidency, Obama announced
plans to develop a results-oriented plan of action against domestic
HIV/AIDS.  Jeff Crowley, Director
of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy
,
is spearheading the task of drafting the plan with input from an
inter-governmental federal working group, the members of which have yet to be
announced.  For the remainder of
calendar 2009, Crowley is expected to visit 13 communities across the country and
open online mechanisms to solicit recommendations on ways to achieve better
national outcomes in reducing new HIV infections, helping people with HIV gain
access to and benefit from care services, and reducing HIV-related health
disparities. 

The White House’s inaugural town-hall meeting will take
place here on Tuesday night August 25th; thousands of conference attendees and hundreds of
local residents are expected to participate.  To prepare, the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance,
a coalition led by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), AIDS
Foundation of Chicago and SisterLove, have distributed tools for people living
with HIV, prevention providers and other advocates to help them craft effective
testimony
.

Truly Partners in
Prevention?

This week, AIDS advocates are expected to challenge members
of the incoming Administration on the federal government’s failure to reverse
the pace of new infections.  In
addition, they will call for an end to a culture of disengagement with
community actors and outright distain for science in the development of program
and policy-making. 

While pleased to learn of the White House’s commitment to
conduct NHAS town-hall meetings across the country, various groups have already
criticized the process, which appears to exclude community voices from any top-line
decision-making roles.   They
have called on the Administration to ensure federal departments and agencies fully
engage community panels in the creation of a results-oriented plan against
HIV/AIDS.  Furthermore, advocates
have suggested the Office on National AIDS Policy ensure that a panel of
community stakeholders with high-level influence on the detailed content and
implementation of the NHAS.

This issue notwithstanding, the Obama Administration has
already garnered cautious approval from community advocates for rolling out the
first HIV social marketing campaign in recent memory, called “Act against AIDS.”  AIDS advocates have also enjoyed unprecedented access to the ONAP
director.  Before joining the
Administration, Mr. Crowley, who formerly worked at the National Association of
People with AIDS (NAPWA), most recently acted as a health and HIV policy
researcher at Georgetown University. 

Advocates have been closely monitoring the Administration’s
efforts to redirect funding for failed abstinence-only sex education to teen
pregnancy prevention programs, which is a welcome start.  In addition, the White House seems
poised to support an even broader mission to support health-promotion among
teens, whether pregnant or not. 

Advocates also applauded CDC for releasing a draft
regulation ending immigration and travel restrictions against HIV-positive
foreign nationals.  The draft rule
would also eliminate mandated HIV testing requirements for those applying to immigrate to the United States.  Now that the public comment period has
closed, advocates urge the CDC to promptly finalize the regulation as
originally drafted.

Still, the political pressures on this fledging Administration to meet
the full range of its ambitious agenda are beginning to show.  On Inauguration Day, the White
House website included specific language supporting an end to the decades old ban
against federal funding for needle-exchange services, which have been proven
effective in reducing HIV transmission among intravenous drug users.  But the website no longer includes such
a bold statement — and the White House passed on an opportunity to urge Congress
to drop the ban as part of FY10 appropriations legislation, spurring activists
to take over the Capitol Rotunda as part of successful efforts to insist on
ban-lifting language in the appropriations bills
.  Thus, while there’s a real possibility
that an end to the ban might happen anyway, amendments might severely restrict
where federally funded needle exchange can operate
. 

The Administration has also been rather quiet about the need
for swift congressional action to extend the Ryan White HIV Treatment Act
beyond its September 30, 2009 expiration date.  As the deadline approaches quickly, advocates are urging
Obama officials to guarantee they will take needed actions to ensure vital HIV
care and treatment services continue without interruption.

And Then There’s the
Economy…

While the Bush
Administration garnered rare compliments for scaling up global access to
treatment, it’s widely acknowledged that the domestic AIDS battle suffered
under its tenure. But the neglect of prevention efforts is long-standing, with
prevention representing only 4% of the Federal investment in fighting HIV and
AIDS.

There’s much hope
that the Obama Administration will not only move forward in the U.S. epidemic
overall, but bring long-needed attention to specific efforts to reduce
incidence at home. But the question now is how will they pay for it, as the
economic recession threatens to undermine a decade of progress responding to
HIV/AIDS at the state and federal levels.

States across the country from California to Illinois and
Massachusetts are slashing state appropriations for essential HIV prevention
and care services. The impact of these
funding cuts is especially severe on HIV prevention services,
which are among
the first wave of services reductions in down economic times. Sadly, many
conference participants presenting about their front-line HIV prevention work
are unclear if their jobs and programs will still exist in the months ahead.

Medicaid services, housing, and the AIDS Drug Assistance
Program (ADAP) are other areas facing funding reductions that will slow the
nation’s response to HIV/AIDS, and the overall impact of budget reductions on
the social safety net will be especially hard on those living with HIV or
vulnerable to infection.

Advocates note that funding cuts mean we can neither
maintain existing services nor deploy desperately needed innovations to tackle
the root causes fueling HIV, particularly in hard-hit communities. Thus,
leaders at the conference are prepared to insist that the National HIV/AIDS
Strategy must not only articulate clear, measurable and achievable strategic
goals, but also hold lawmakers accountable for appropriating adequate economic
resources for program expansion and implementation.  

Putting the National Back into the National HIV Prevention Conference

The timing of the conference the first major Obama
Administration gathering on HIV, as well as the high visibility of healthcare
reform and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy as potential game-changers has
brought uncommonly broad attention and participation to the National HIV Prevention
Conference. The coming days will reveal possible challenges and opportunities
in our struggles against the domestic epidemic; what’s clear is that the way
ahead will not be easy and require shoring up the “pillars” of treatment, care
and justice even as we push for desperately-needed innovations in HIV prevention.

We will be keeping you posted as the conference progresses.

Commentary Sexual Health

Parents, Educators Can Support Pediatricians in Providing Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Nicole Cushman

While medical systems will need to evolve to address the challenges preventing pediatricians from sharing medically accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality with their patients, there are several things I recommend parents and educators do to reinforce AAP’s guidance.

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a clinical report outlining guidance for pediatricians on providing sexuality education to the children and adolescents in their care. As one of the most influential medical associations in the country, AAP brings, with this report, added weight to longstanding calls for comprehensive sex education.

The report offers guidance for clinicians on incorporating conversations about sexual and reproductive health into routine medical visits and summarizes the research supporting comprehensive sexuality education. It acknowledges the crucial role pediatricians play in supporting their patients’ healthy development, making them key stakeholders in the promotion of young people’s sexual health. Ultimately, the report could bolster efforts by parents and educators to increase access to comprehensive sexuality education and better equip young people to grow into sexually healthy adults.

But, while the guidance provides persuasive, evidence-backed encouragement for pediatricians to speak with parents and children and normalize sexual development, the report does not acknowledge some of the practical challenges to implementing such recommendations—for pediatricians as well as parents and school staff. Articulating these real-world challenges (and strategies for overcoming them) is essential to ensuring the report does not wind up yet another publication collecting proverbial dust on bookshelves.

The AAP report does lay the groundwork for pediatricians to initiate conversations including medically accurate and age-appropriate information about sexuality, and there is plenty in the guidelines to be enthusiastic about. Specifically, the report acknowledges something sexuality educators have long known—that a simple anatomy lesson is not sufficient. According to the AAP, sexuality education should address interpersonal relationships, body image, sexual orientation, gender identity, and reproductive rights as part of a comprehensive conversation about sexual health.

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The report further acknowledges that young people with disabilities, chronic health conditions, and other special needs also need age- and developmentally appropriate sex education, and it suggests resources for providing care to LGBTQ young people. Importantly, the AAP rejects abstinence-only approaches as ineffective and endorses comprehensive sexuality education.

It is clear that such guidance is sorely needed. Previous studies have shown that pediatricians have not been successful at having conversations with their patients about sexuality. One study found that one in three adolescents did not receive any information about sexuality from their pediatrician during health maintenance visits, and those conversations that did occur lasted less than 40 seconds, on average. Another analysis showed that, among sexually experienced adolescents, only a quarter of girls and one-fifth of boys had received information from a health-care provider about sexually transmitted infections or HIV in the last year. 

There are a number of factors at play preventing pediatricians from having these conversations. Beyond parental pushback and anti-choice resistance to comprehensive sex education, which Martha Kempner has covered in depth for Rewire, doctor visits are often limited in time and are not usually scheduled to allow for the kind of discussion needed to build a doctor-patient relationship that would be conducive to providing sexuality education. Doctors also may not get needed in-depth training to initiate and sustain these important, ongoing conversations with patients and their families.

The report notes that children and adolescents prefer a pediatrician who is nonjudgmental and comfortable discussing sexuality, answering questions and addressing concerns, but these interpersonal skills must be developed and honed through clinical training and practice. In order to fully implement the AAP’s recommendations, medical school curricula and residency training programs would need to devote time to building new doctors’ comfort with issues surrounding sexuality, interpersonal skills for navigating tough conversations, and knowledge and skills necessary for providing LGBTQ-friendly care.

As AAP explains in the report, sex education should come from many sources—schools, communities, medical offices, and homes. It lays out what can be a powerful partnership between parents, doctors, and educators in providing the age-appropriate and truly comprehensive sexuality education that young people need and deserve. While medical systems will need to evolve to address the challenges outlined above, there are several things I recommend parents and educators do to reinforce AAP’s guidance.

Parents and Caregivers: 

  • When selecting a pediatrician for your child, ask potential doctors about their approach to sexuality education. Make sure your doctor knows that you want your child to receive comprehensive, medically accurate information about a range of issues pertaining to sexuality and sexual health.
  • Talk with your child at home about sex and sexuality. Before a doctor’s visit, help your child prepare by encouraging them to think about any questions they may have for the doctor about their body, sexual feelings, or personal safety. After the visit, check in with your child to make sure their questions were answered.
  • Find out how your child’s school approaches sexuality education. Make sure school administrators, teachers, and school board members know that you support age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education that will complement the information provided by you and your child’s pediatrician.

School Staff and Educators: 

  • Maintain a referral list of pediatricians for parents to consult. When screening doctors for inclusion on the list, ask them how they approach sexuality education with patients and their families.
  • Involve supportive pediatricians in sex education curriculum review committees. Medical professionals can provide important perspective on what constitutes medically accurate, age- and developmentally-appropriate content when selecting or adapting curriculum materials for sex education classes.
  • Adopt sex-education policies and curricula that are comprehensive and inclusive of all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Ensure that teachers receive the training and support they need to provide high-quality sex education to their students.

The AAP clinical report provides an important step toward ensuring that young people receive sexuality education that supports their healthy sexual development. If adopted widely by pediatricians—in partnership with parents and schools—the report’s recommendations could contribute to a sea change in providing young people with the care and support they need.

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.

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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.”