Analysis Science

The Miseducation of California Nurses: Legal Loophole Enables Spread of Anti-Choice Medical Myths

Nicole Knight Shine

Heartbeat International and other anti-choice groups treat abortion pill reversal as if it’s a medical fact, but the science behind it is scanty, at best.

In a St. Louis high-rise hotel last April, health-care workers filed into a conference room to learn about the myth of undoing a pill-induced abortion, also called abortion pill reversal. The workshop, hosted by the anti-choice giant Heartbeat International, promised nurses in attendance that they could earn continuing education credits from a state some 1,700 miles away: California.

Missing from the conference materials was any disclosure saying that the medical establishment, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), rejects the so-called science behind abortion pill reversal. Instead, Heartbeat International displayed the medical imprimatur of the Golden State: “Provider approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, Provider Number CEP 16061 for 1.25 contact hours for each workshop.”

How has Heartbeat International, along with other anti-choice organizations, co-opted a narrow area of health-care law in one of the country’s most progressive states? The answer exposes regulatory holes in the post-graduate education of California nurses.

Continuing education credits are required of nurses and doctors to maintain licensure in California and other states. The rationale is to ensure that health-care professionals, after the completion of their formal education, remain abreast of medical developments in order to safeguard patients and to, when appropriate, shape their care.

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Heartbeat International and other anti-choice groups have treated abortion pill reversal, both in courses offering these education credits and elsewhere, as if it’s a medical fact—but the science behind it is scanty, at best.

A single 2012 paper in Annals of Pharmacotherapy claimed to have reversed the medication abortions of four of six women included in the study.

A medication abortion, typically performed early in a pregnancy, involves the administration of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks receptors for the hormone progesterone, causing the embryo to detach from the uterine wall, while misoprostol causes the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy. The FDA-approved treatment, according to the Guttmacher Institute, accounts for more than one-quarter of abortions before nine weeks.

But by administering dosages of the hormone progesterone after mifepristone, anti-choice doctors claim they can “reverse” an abortion.

Experts say the six cases cited in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy paper are insufficient to draw conclusions. ACOG, a professional organization of 58,000 OB-GYNs and women’s health-care professionals, is dismissive of the purported treatment.

“There is really no clear evidence that this works,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, ACOG fellow and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with MedPage Today about the “science” behind abortion pill reversal.

Four years ago, when Heartbeat International applied to the California Board of Registered Nursing to teach continuing education courses, it listed Debbie Bradel, RN, as an instructor. Bradel is one of the foremost advocates of abortion reversal and has been for years. She is on the staff of the “abortion pill reversal program” at a San Diego area clinic, which claims to have a network of hundreds of doctors nationwide who advocate for the medically questionable procedure.

Bradel was not made available for an interview with Rewire, but her supervisor, medical director Dr. George Delgado, described the course, “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic,” which Bradel taught last year at the April St. Louis Heartbeat International conference. The class, Delgado said in a phone interview, was “given to licensed pregnancy centers for women who might be interested in changing their minds after taking the first pill.”

Delgado offered his own statistics to back the treatment, saying abortion pill reversal has resulted in about 145 births, with a success rate of 55 percent. He said between 75 and 80 women nationwide are pregnant right now, having undone their abortions with dosages of progesterone.

The class that Bradel taught, Delgado said, “describes the process for the reversal in great detail.”

When Rewire showed the course description to Diana Taylor, professor emerita with the UCSF School of Nursing, she said it was difficult to know the true nature of the class without a syllabus or course objectives, but she noted that the overall tone seemed skewed toward persuading, rather than informing.

“It made me think they’re re-framing their purpose, which is to keep women from having abortions,” Taylor said. “I think that we would really need to see those courses. If I were in that classroom, I guess I would be listening very carefully to how they talk about implementing these skills … because it’s counter to [the] nursing code of conduct to not give full information.”

Delgado did not respond to Rewire’s request for class materials, such as a syllabus or learning objectives, by deadline.

Screenshot 2016-01-15 10.34.35

Bradel’s “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” course was among those available for health-care workers at the Heartbeat International conference in St. Louis.

A Loophole Welcomed by the Anti-Choice Movement

California is something of a standard-bearer for reproductive rights. The state in recent years passed a law allowing women to obtain birth control from pharmacists and has forced crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), faith-based facilities that often masquerade as abortion clinics, to make disclosures about the availability of abortion care and birth control services. And in what may serve as a model for municipalities nationwide, San Francisco demands truth in advertising for CPCs, which frequently use misinformation to dissuade women from ending their pregnancies.

Heartbeat International, in contrast, is known for its nationwide billboards—“Pregnant? Scared? Need Help? Call us…”—designed to ensnare women seeking abortions. The Ohio-based organization is the umbrella group for 1,800 CPCs on six continents with the singular goal of “saving babies.”

That Heartbeat International is teaching nurses about abortion pill reversal capitalizes on something of a loophole in California law.

The California Board of Registered Nursing is part of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which encompasses 40 boards, bureaus, committees, and a commission that each year, according to a state audit, process more than 350,000 applications for professional licensure and an estimated 1.2 million license renewals.

The law requires the state Board of Registered Nursing to vet nursing continuing-education providers, which range from private companies to universities. But it leaves it to approved providers to ensure the class material is lawful.

To become a state-approved provider, applicants complete a six-page application, including instructors’ qualifications and class descriptions, such as content and objectives. By law, the class content, according to the state Board of Registered Nursing website, “must be related to the scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing, or be related to direct and/or indirect patient/client care.”

Heartbeat International on its application, which Rewire received a copy of through a public records request, listed a single, benign-sounding course: “Knobology Applications: Or How to Get Better Pictures.”

Applications are then reviewed by licensed registered nurses, explained Christina Sprigg, chief of licensing and administrative services with the state board.

“We do not approve courses, we only approve the providers,” Sprigg said in a phone interview with Rewire.

Gaining approval appears to be almost a slam dunk. Figures provided by the California Board of Registered Nursing indicate that from 2012 to 2014, it received 764 applications and approved 82 percent. The board doesn’t outright deny applications, an agency spokeswoman explained in an email, but instead rates applicants as deficient, giving them up to two years to remedy any shortcomings needed to gain approval.

Once approved, providers essentially police themselves. Audits are rare and officials said they have never audited Heartbeat International, or two other major anti-choice providers, Care Net and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, whose applications were approved years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor.

In response to Rewire’s request for the number of total audits performed between 2012 and 2014, the agency said it “does not have any data on the number of provider audits completed for these periods of time.”

The board’s Sprigg put it simply: “It’s very few, only because we don’t have the staff to conduct the audits.”

It’s difficult to say whether California’s lax practices are standard across the country, or an outlier. The absence of a national governing body over continuing education means that regulation is left up to individual states, explained a spokeswoman with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, an advisory body.

Problems with the California Board of Registered Nursing are not new. Investigations by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times found widespread failures to discipline nurses for misconduct. The board took more than three years, on average, to investigate and discipline errant nurses, according to its own statistics, a process that in other states typically takes a year or less.

Dr. Pratima Gupta, a reproductive health advocacy fellow with New York City-based Physicians for Reproductive Health, worries that the system leaves California open to political exploitation.

“I think the concern is there isn’t enough bandwidth to do quality control, so there’s incorrect information out there,” Gupta said in a phone interview.

Allowing state-approved providers like Heartbeat International to dispense biased medical information, Gupta contends, is a public health problem.

“These courses are giving continuing-education nursing credits and they are disseminating incorrect information,” Gupta said.

Rewire has provided the state Board of Registered Nursing with the descriptions of the abortion pill reversal class and others offered by anti-choice groups that the state has approved as continuing education providers. The board, in written responses, repeatedly cited state law that said the agency is not required to approve courses.

The agency passed the buck to the continuing education providers, writing “California Code of Regulations section 1454 requires the approved provider to accept full responsibility for each course taught.”

Amy Everitt, vice president of NARAL Pro Choice California, believes anti-choice providers are using the state to “create that veneer of legitimacy.”

“What we really need is tighter standards so no one is getting credit for medically inaccurate training,” Everitt said in a phone interview. “I think it presents a health-care problem for women in California when they think they are getting medically accurate information, and they are not.”

“It’s Obviously Going to Impact Women’s Health”

Care Net is a massive anti-choice umbrella organization based in Virginia. Like Heartbeat International, its stock in trade is convincing women to remain pregnant, which it does through thousands of affiliated CPCs spread across the country. California approved its application to teach continuing education nursing classes nine years ago.

Once a provider gains state approval, maintaining that status is simple. The provider pays a $300 renewal fee every two years and must confirm that information contained in the initial application remains the same, Sprigg from the Board of Registered Nursing explained.

Care Net, like Heartbeat International, touts its status as a California-approved continuing education provider. Its annual conference brochure last year included this note: “Care Net is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing to provide continuing education contact hours for nurses. Provider Number: CEP14950.”

Appearing in the same brochure was a listing for a continuing education course: “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?”

A class available for continuing education credit at a Care Net conference.

A class available for continuing education credit at a Care Net conference.

Anti-choice lawmakers in Arizona and elsewhere have latched onto the notion of fetal pain in failed attempts to ban abortion after the first trimester. The medical establishment agrees that the fetal nervous system lacks the development necessary to feel pain until the third trimester. ACOG has said that fetal pain is unlikely before the third trimester and “no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.”

The instructor for “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?” was Dr. Sandra Christiansen; her name also appeared on Care Net’s nine-year-old state application. But the application neglects to mention the fetal pain class, and so it’s difficult to say precisely what Christiansen may have taught nurses at the Care Net conference in San Diego last year.

What is clear is that Christiansen gave testimony two years earlier in support of Maryland’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an attempt to ban abortion care after 20 weeks.

Christiansen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Pinning down the number of nurses who have taken classes taught by advocates like Christiansen is impossible. The state doesn’t keep a tally of the courses that nurses submit for continuing education credit. It is clear, however, that the classes, worth only 1.25 “contact” hours, account for only a fraction of the 30 hours that California registered nurses must complete every two years to maintain licensure.

Even so, Gupta, a physician, worries that these classes are introducing bias, or worse, at a time when evidence-based reproductive health care is under attack by legislators and powerful and well-funded anti-choice organizations. California, until now, had been seen as a bulwark against this tide of medical misinformation.

“It’s obviously going to impact women’s health in that a nurse is receiving information that he or she is then disseminating to their patients,” Gupta said. “I think that’s the concern.”

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

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.”