Politics & Policy

One Abortion, Two Abortions

(Andrew Burton/Getty)
Surprise: A study funded by Planned Parenthood supports Planned Parenthood’s agenda.

A new study conducted at Planned Parenthood clinics, funded by Planned Parenthood, and written by a Planned Parenthood physician has astonishingly revealed that Planned Parenthood’s chemical-abortion procedures are A-okay. Critics of safety regulations for abortion — including the lead writer of the study, Planned Parenthood physician Deborah L. Nucatola — claim that administering abortion-inducing drugs in a way that has not been approved by the FDA is “safer” than the one protocol that the FDA has reviewed and approved. But you know that there is little evidence to support such claims when Planned Parenthood has to design, fund, and write its own study.

Besides the clear conflict of interest, the “study’s” flaws are numerous. For example, one of the most common risks associated with abortion-inducing drugs is incomplete abortion. If the drugs do not terminate the pregnancy, a second abortion is necessary — either surgical or an additional chemical abortion. However, the study used a skewed definition of “successful” abortion: “A successful abortion was defined as expulsion of the pregnancy without the need for aspiration.” In other words, only those incomplete abortions that resulted in “aspiration” — a surgical procedure — were counted among the incomplete abortions. If a woman went on to have a second chemical abortion, the first chemical abortion was counted as “successful.”

In fact, the study admitted that “information on whether a repeat dose of misoprostol was given is not available” for more than 45 percent of the women studied. This clearly undermines any purported conclusion that the Planned Parenthood–preferred (and FDA-unapproved) protocol is effective at terminating pregnancy and never involves a second abortion attempt.

Significantly, the study also admitted that, while the efficacy of Planned Parenthood’s protocol was highest at 29 to 42 days’ gestation (which falls within the FDA’s approved 49-day window), it was “lowest at 57 to 63 days (95.5 %)” (gestational ages that fall outside the FDA’s restrictions). Taken at face value, this means that four or five of every 100 women using the drugs past the FDA’s restrictions will experience (and be subjected to the risks of) two abortions. But as we indicated, that number cannot be taken at face value, because it excludes data on women who had two chemical abortions, meaning that the percentage of “successful” chemical abortions at this gestational age is actually lower than 95 percent.

The number also excludes the 15.5 percent of women who did not follow up. No data on subsequent complications or incomplete abortion are available for them. Rather than acknowledge that they could have received follow-up care for subsequent complications elsewhere (as is frequently the case, with women reporting to emergency rooms rather than an abortion provider when serious events arise), the authors excluded the women from the study altogether. Again, the data reported by Planned Parenthood are effectively skewed; there could have been many more complications (and incomplete abortions) than are acknowledged in the study.

Further, the study purported to contribute to “the evidence against restrictions that require use of the FDA-approved regimen.” However, the authors admittedly studied only one protocol: the protocol preferred by Planned Parenthood, which includes sending women home to self-abort and instructing them to administer misoprostol, the second drug in the regimen, buccally (and not orally, as approved by the FDA). And so comparisons with the safety and efficacy of the FDA protocol cannot be made within this study, as that protocol was not used by the researchers. Simply put, you cannot say that one procedure is “safer” when there are no data to compare within the study.

But the study is accurate on one point. Planned Parenthood’s protocol is effective in that it effectively ensures that Planned Parenthood gets paid for two abortions. The abortion giant’s finagling of semantics and failure to define a “failed abortion” as, well, a failed abortion does not just skew the medical data; it is financial subterfuge. According to the “data,” these women who needed multiple rounds of abortion-inducing drugs (and, therefore, were subjected to the risks twice) didn’t have “failed” first abortions; they simply needed to pay Planned Parenthood twice.


— Mailee Smith is staff counsel for Americans United for Life.

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