Culture & Conversation Media

A Conversation With ‘No Más Bebés’ Filmmakers Virginia Espino and Renee Tajima-Peña

Tina Vasquez

A new generation can now hear from some of the women coerced into sterilization at Los Angeles County General Hospital in the 1970s in the documentary No Más Bebés ("No More Babies"), airing on PBS tonight.

When Consuelo Hermosillo stands in front of audiences at colleges in Southern California and shares her story of being one of many immigrant women from Mexico coerced into sterilization at Los Angeles County General Hospital in the 1970s, she’s surprised by how quickly she’s transported back to being a scared 23-year-old giving birth to her third and final child.

“I still cry. Maybe I will always cry,” Hermosillo told Rewire. “I tell myself I should get over it, that a lot of time has passed, but it still hurts. I’m surprised it still hurts like this.”

While in labor, before being allowed to see a doctor, Hermosillo was asked by a woman who worked at the hospital to sign papers consenting to sterilization. The woman told Hermosillo that if she didn’t sign the papers, her baby would die. To this day, Hermosillo does not recall signing the papers.

Countless women have come forward with different variations of the same experience at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. In 1975, ten of those women, including Hermosillo, filed Madrigal v. Quilligan, a class action lawsuit against hospital doctors, the state, and the federal government for coercing them into tubal ligation, often while they were under duress. The women eventually lost their case, and despite making front-page news at the time, their experiences have largely been forgotten—until now.

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A new generation can now hear their stories in the documentary No Más Bebés (“No More Babies”), directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña and produced by historian Virginia Espino, airing tonight on PBS.

Hermosillo said her reasons for participating in the documentary were the same as her reasons for participating in the court case: She wanted to remind everyone of what happened in hopes that it wouldn’t continue happening to “younger generations.”

“I just wanted to remind people that women in delivery rooms need support because there will be people who try to deny them rights,” Hermosillo said.

“I still wish I could know why doctors did this to us,” she added. “Did the doctors think this wasn’t wrong? Were they being paid per patient? Did they not even think about it? I don’t know. Only God knows.”

What happened to Hermosillo in California happened to women nationwide. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in the 1900s, “thousands of poor women in at least 30 states were unknowingly sterilized after giving birth as part of a federally funded program aimed at population control.” The bulk of the women sterilized in California, which accounted for a significant number of the sterilizations, were Spanish-speaking immigrants.

No Más Bebés documents the experiences of some of the Mexican immigrant women who were sterilized in the Los Angeles area. RH Reality Check recently spoke with director Tajima-Peña and producer Espino about the film, including what brought them to the subject matter and what they hope audiences will take away from the documentary.

Rewire: What was your entry point for learning about coercive sterilization, especially what happened to Mexican immigrant women in Los Angeles in the 1970s?

Virginia Espino: I grew up in Los Angeles around the L.A. County Hospitalmy grandmother lived five minutes from the hospital—so it was a big, looming figure in my childhood and my adolescence. It was never a place that people wanted to go for medical care; it was a place you had to [because you were poor], otherwise you stayed away from it. I never heard of the history of sterilization until a Chicano Studies class in graduate school. My professor, at the time, was one of the few Chicana historians in the country. It was her task to recover these stories and train young students to take on these topics. I decided this was something I wanted to investigate even further because it was so outrageous and unbelievable I almost didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it was true that women were coercively sterilized at a time when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles. I had to go home and research it.

Renee Tajima-Peña: I first heard about it from Virginia. We both had toddlers and would have playdates, and that’s when she told me about her research. I was a new mother, in that blissful state of new motherhood, and [the history] felt very profound. I couldn’t imagine being denied the right to have a child. Like a lot of other middle-class women, the question for me when it came to reproductive rights had always been: Do we have access to safe and legal abortion? Reproductive justice was a new idea to me. It addresses how poor women, immigrant women, and other women who are marginalized have to worry about the right to, and the access to, safe and healthy childbirth and the ability to raise those children safely. I’d been around issues of race, feminism, and activism for many years, but it never struck me quite like that. What happened to women like Mrs. Hermosillo is one of the many untold stories of reproductive rights. What we don’t talk about enough is that women also have a constitutional protection to give birth, and that some women have that right taken from them.

Rewire: It took six years to make the documentary happen. Why did you remain so committed to making it, and did anything about how you initially set out to tell this story change?

VE: I don’t think anything changed. For me, I was just amazed at how well the mothers remembered what happened. The way they told their stories in the 2000s was the same way they told it in the 1970s, based on court records. They didn’t stray from their original memories. They still remembered the details 40 years later. The thing that was up in the air for me was how the defendants would respond after all of this time. I didn’t have a chance to interview them; Renee did. Their memories, their perspectives on what went on in the maternity ward, were so strikingly different from the plaintiffs’. But even if they didn’t think they were responsible, were they sorry that the women felt this happened? Maybe they feel they didn’t do anything wrong, but look: Something happened at that hospital. Something went wrong in the way they were administering what they considered “good medical practice.”

RTP: I was committed to telling the story because I wanted something to “click” for people the way reproductive justice clicked for me. Reproductive rights was my framework—this idea of reproductive autonomythe mainstream, traditional framework. I was a teenager during Roe v. Wade. I had an abortion myself and that was my frame of reference. I think it was for a lot of women. Through Virginia and Elena Gutiérrez, who was one of our advisors, and through talking to people about this case, I was introduced to the reproductive justice framework. For me, it wasn’t easy to understand, but after meeting these women and understanding how the case related to women’s reproductive autonomy and women who are incarcerated in California prisons today, it really clicked. Hopefully the film will help that idea click for the audience.

Rewire: The documentary touches on the nationwide program under which the sterilizations in Los Angeles happened. Because of demographics in California, it primarily affected immigrant women. In other parts of the country, it affected poor Black and white women. Do you think this had more to do with race or socioeconomics?

VE: It’s a combination of a lot of things. This didn’t just happen to Mexican Americans. Poor people of color are not valued and poverty is criminalized. You are demonized for your economic status, which is why in Alabama, you had 12-year-olds being sterilized. In Puerto Rico, you had many, many women who underwent coercive sterilizations. It happened on reservations and in Indian health centers in urban areas. We don’t even know how many women were sterilized with these funds. We tried, but it was almost impossible to pinpoint where the money came from, who did the sterilizations, and how many women were impacted. There were millions of dollars poured into public hospitals in the United States. Often, they were teaching hospitals, so the people who used those services were primarily people of color and poor people, and they became the victims of these coercive tactics.

RTP: It’s easy to say it’s just about class, and it was very much about that, impacting poor women across the country. But it’s equally about race, culture, and gender.

Rewire: Many people were shocked to learn what was happening to women in California prisons. Are you shocked this is still happening?

VE: It’s always outrageous when it happens. It’s outrageous when conservative politicians want to bargain with the judicial system to implement laws where women agree to sterilization for a reduced sentence or to see their children again. Sterilization has become a bargaining chip.

Rewire: Virginia, you were so close to these stories for so long, first as a historian conducting oral histories with these women when you were at the University of California, Los Angeles, and then during the years it took to make this documentary. What does it mean to you that the documentary is being embraced by so many people and that it will air February 1 on PBS?

VE: It has had such an impact on me as a Mexican American in the United States, who comes from a community that is viewed as a burden to society. I grew up in a time when we didn’t have the representation we do today. People in my community are often robbed of so much, denied opportunities because of their race or color or ethnicity. They’re never allowed to believe they could have anything different. The women these sterilizations happened to were robbed too; they were robbed of what they wanted for their future and for many of them, that included the opportunity to have more children. I’ve had three children and each time I deliver in a hospital, I remember the women’s stories and I remember what it was like for them being approached for sterilization when they were in the middle of childbirth. But I have to say, it has been a beautiful experience to bring these everyday women, who for 40 years have been living their everyday lives after this horrible thing happened to them, on a stage and let them tell their stories. They have been so courageous, every step of the way, and they are becoming heroes for a new generation of Chicanas.

RTP: [The women behind Madrigal v. Quilligan] are not everyday activists or everyday heroes. These aren’t women we recognize during Hispanic Heritage Month. They have not lived their lives as activists. When history called them, they stood up. They didn’t even think about it. The women are so amazing, like Mrs. Hurtado, for example, who was featured in the documentary. She really owns her sexuality and for a little while, we didn’t know how much of that to convey. We were worried about these stereotypes about Latina sexuality, especially given the subject matter of the film. But, finally, we realized this is just who she is and how she is and she was simply ahead of her time. That’s important to showcase.

Rewire: Have you been surprised to learn anything during the course of making the film or in its aftermath?

RTP: I guess I’ve been surprised by some reactions. The most uncomfortable thing that comes up is that people who I wouldn’t think would say something like this, say, “Well, they didn’t really need to be having more children.” That has come up a lot from otherwise very liberal people. I know I’ve made judgments like that in the past, but I’ve learned not to. When my grandfather came here, he had five kids and my grandparents wanted more. He raised them during the Depression. Years before he was able to naturalize, he didn’t have immigration status; he was poor. Everything was against my grandparents. Why should he have more children? Thank God he had those kids, or I wouldn’t be here! The point is, it was their choice. They were able to figure it out. Letting people decide how many kids they want, even if you disagree with it, is part of letting people have reproductive autonomy. We don’t get to pick and choose how that takes shape.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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.

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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.

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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.”