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Congressional Republicans Question FDA’s Evidence-Based Medication Abortion Guidelines

Christine Grimaldi

“When it comes to a health-care provider’s ability to provide care in accordance with the most up-to-date medical research, no politician should ever interfere," said Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood Action Fund's vice president of public policy.

Anti-choice federal lawmakers in a letter demanded information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the agency’s recent update to medication abortion labeling.

Seventy-four Republicans and one Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate said they were “deeply disappointed” with the FDA’s new guidelines on mifepristone, a medication used to induce abortion. The updated guidelines support a lower dose, fewer doctor visits, and an increase of the time a pregnant person has to receive a medication abortion to ten weeks.

The FDA in March revised the guidelines based on data and information submitted by the drug manufacturer, Danco. The change brings federal regulations in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine while undercutting GOP-supported laws in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and North Dakota that require physicians to follow the agency’s outdated label recommendation for mifepristone.

Anti-choice lobbyists and GOP legislators in Arizona are still fighting to legislate away medication abortion.

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Serious complications in medication abortion occur in less than 0.4 percent of patients. Nevertheless, the lawmakers’ letter contends that there are adverse impacts of the “baby-killing drug,” including the “deaths of mothers who have taken it.”

Similar anti-choice rhetoric is on the rise around the country, from the GOP-led House panel investigating the sale of “baby body parts” to the accused Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter, who called himself a “warrior for the babies.” A National Abortion Federation report released this month found unprecedented levels of violence and threats against abortion providers in 2015, with a spike in threats coming after the release of discredited videos from the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group alleging that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations.

“The FDA decision to make mifepristone available to more women in this country is based on science that shows this usage is safe and medically sound,” NARAL National Communications Director Kaylie Hanson told Rewire in an email. “Really, this is just the latest action in the anti-choice GOP’s crusade to undermine a woman’s ability to make her own decision about her own health care, and we can’t say we’re surprised to see it.”

Outspoken anti-choice lawmakers Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) led the signatories, which included presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was the lone Democrat to sign the letter.

The lawmakers gave the FDA a May 20 deadline to provide documents, including all communications between FDA staff, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services “regarding mifepristone, Mifeprex, RU-486 or ‘medication abortion.’”

An FDA spokesperson told Rewire via email that the agency received the letter and “will respond directly to the members of Congress.”

Planned Parenthood slammed the lawmakers’ demands. “The politicians behind this letter literally want to turn the clock backwards on women’s health,” Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s vice president of public policy, said in an email.

“The outdated regimen outlined on mifepristone’s previous label was based on clinical trials completed in the mid-1990s, and is proven by years of research to be inferior and less effective. The regimen on the new FDA label has a 99 percent safety record and has also proven to be up to 98 percent effective in ending an early pregnancy,” Singiser said. “When it comes to a health-care provider’s ability to provide care in accordance with the most up-to-date medical research, no politician should ever interfere.”

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