Supreme Court and Mifepristone label
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media, still denying that mifepristone is safe and effective, demand the Supreme Court restrict the drug

Studies show that the drug has only a 0.4% risk of major complications, yet right-wing pundits and figures are still pushing the idea that mifepristone is dangerous

After the Supreme Court heard arguments on March 26 regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, the justices reportedly seemed to side with the agency, prompting another round of attacks on the drug from anti-abortion activists and their allies in right-wing media. Mifepristone, commonly used to terminate pregnancies and manage miscarriages, is proven to be safe and effective, yet right-wing media maintain that taking the drug is a “gruesome procedure” and that it is the source of outsized injury and death among the patients who take it.

  • Studies show that mifepristone is safe and effective for terminating a pregnancy in the early stages

    • Mifepristone is a drug approved by the FDA in 2000 that is used to end a pregnancy up until 10 weeks gestation. The drug is typically used in combination with the drug misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy via medication abortion, the most commonly-used abortion method in the country. The FDA expanded access to the drug from seven weeks into the pregnancy to 10 weeks in 2016, and lifted the requirement for abortion pills to be dispensed in person in 2021. [The Washington Post, 3/25/24, 3/19/24; ABC News, 3/26/24]
    • Mifepristone is reported by the FDA to have fewer than 0.5% of recipients experiencing “serious adverse reactions,” and death associated with the drug is even more rare. The FDA has found that medication abortion is a “safe and highly effective method of pregnancy termination. When taken, medication abortion successfully terminates the pregnancy 99.6% of the time, with a 0.4% risk of major complications, and an associated mortality rate of less than 0.001 percent (0.00064%).” The FDA has reported that 32 women died after taking mifepristone between 2000 and 2022, but that it’s not clear that any of the deaths are directly attributable to mifepristone. [KFF, 3/20/24; FDA, accessed 3/27/24; LA Times, 3/26/24]
    • An amicus brief from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical societies stated that the risk of death from mifepristone “is almost non-existent.” The brief also notes that mifepristone is less likely to lead to serious reactions or death than Viagra or wisdom teeth removal. According to a reproductive health expert at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, “a small proportion of patients do visit emergency rooms” after taking mifepristone, but it is not necessarily because of an emergency situation or because mifepristone is unsafe. [Amicus brief by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, accessed 3/27/24; Salon, 3/20/24]
  • Right-wing media are falsely stating that mifepristone is dangerous

    • Fox News legal editor Kerri Urbahn exaggerated the dangers of taking mifepristone, calling it high risk. She argued, “I don't think they will reach this in the decision but it's the heart of the merit, which is, OK, who holds the FDA accountable at the end of the day? If there's a 'high-risk' drug, and this drug has appeared to be high risk in different ways over the years, for instance their own warning label says one in 25 women who use it end up in the emergency room and that strikes me as high risk.” [Fox News, America Reports, 3/26/24]
    • An article for The Washington Times also pointed out that the mifepristone pill bottle label disclaims that taking the pill can result in patients visiting the emergency room, without providing proper context. It wrote, “Whether you’re a doctor with ethical objections to abortion, a young woman seeking an abortion, or most certainly a baby in the womb, all groups are being harmed through the current mail-order abortion scheme. ” [The Washington Times, 3/26/24]         
    • Conservative writer and Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway claimed that the FDA “removed any protections associated with a very common abortion drug that has been associated with two dozen deaths, a 500% increase in emergency room visits and a lot of complications.” She also stated that, “They made it easier to have that done without the supervision of a doctor even though it can cause major problems for women.” [Fox News, America Reports, 3/26/24]
    • Anti-abortion activist Melissa Ohden baselessly asserted that “women are being harmed by the abortion pill." She stated that “what I wanted the other side to hear about this morning was not just that babies can survive all sorts of abortion procedures, but that women are being harmed by the abortion pill.” Ohden also argued that, “Some of these stories we heard even this morning before the court outside were absolutely horrific.” [Newsmax, Newsline, 3/26/24]
    • Newsmax anchor Bianca de la Garza called medication abortion “a gruesome procedure,” and claimed that “women could die if things go wrong.” She argued that “the left never wants to talk about what actually goes on. But even with a pill that you take, Katie, there are serious dangers. Women could die if things go wrong and there's no supervision.” [Newsmax, Newsline, 3/26/24]
    • Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America state policy director Katie Daniel called telehealth access to mifepristone “incredibly dangerous” and that “American women and girls and families need to understand” that. [Newsmax, Newsline, 3/26/24]
    • An article in National Review insisted that the FDA has “sacrificed its noble mission by putting politics over science and endangering girls and women.” The article later noted, “Regardless of where they stand on abortion, any physician who cares about maternal safety should be alarmed by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) mishandling of the safety protocols surrounding abortion drugs.” [National Review, 3/26/24]                                         
    • On his Newsmax show, host Chris Plante baselessly claimed that mifepristone has been “associated with several deaths – a couple of dozen deaths” and “apparently a 400 or 500% increase in complications,” which is false. He also stated, “One of the questions here is whether the FDA ran this through all the necessary traps to take the actions that they took, right? And that the FDA may be the villain of the story for not behaving responsibly.” [Newsmax, Chris Plante The Right Squad, 3/26/24]
    • The X account for LifeNews outrageously asserted that the “drug was exclusively designed to kill children in the womb.” The full post read: “Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments for a case reviewing the FDA’s dangerous policies that have expanded access to mifepristone — a drug that was exclusively designed to kill children in the womb.” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
  • Right-wing media are arguing SCOTUS should be allowed to overrule the FDA and act on behalf of “unborn babies” and women’s health

    • In an article for the Washington Examiner, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote that SCOTUS “should overturn FDA approval of dangerous abortion drug mifepristone.” The article read, “In 2000, the FDA illegally approved mifepristone under rules that allow the agency to approve drugs that provide meaningful therapeutic benefits over existing treatments for serious and life-threatening illnesses, such as AIDS. Pregnancy, of course, is not an illness, and abortion is not a treatment. The FDA claimed otherwise, abusing its own regulation and illegally approving the abortion drug with tragic effects.” [The Washington Examiner, 3/26/24]
    • WND cited the chief of the National Right to Life as asserting that “the least the Supreme Court can do is reinstate safety protocols that might provide the mothers some protection.” The article read, “The abortion drug mifepristone already takes the life of an unborn baby when it is used, and the chief of the National Right to Life says the least the Supreme Court can do is reinstate safety protocols that might provide the mothers some protection.” [WND, 3/26/24]
    • In an op-ed for Fox News, Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and President Kristen Waggoner urged the Supreme Court to “hear from abortion pill victims” and “restore the crucial safeguards that once protected the women and girls who use these high-risk drugs.” The article used anecdotal evidence to ask “the Supreme Court to restore the crucial safeguards that once protected the women and girls who use these high-risk drugs. For Dora, Patricia, Leslie, Elizabeth and the countless other women who have suffered in silence — whose names we don’t know and whose stories we haven’t heard.” [Fox News, 3/26/24]
  • Right-wing media are reporting on criticisms of the safety of the drug without noting the rigorous FDA approval process

    • Fox News’ Carley Shimkus claimed, “In 2016, the FDA made the pill easier to obtain. Medical associations who oppose abortion say they are unlawfully relaxing rules around the pill's use.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/26/24]
    • Newsmax played a clip of the plaintiff’s attorney stating, “The reason our clients have standing is because from 2000 on — including in 2021 — FDA acknowledged that the restrictions, the safeguards that it was removing on the abortion drug, would mean that more women suffer harm and end up in the emergency room.” Correspondent Kilmeny Duchardt also read a quote from the president of right-wing anti-abortion group CatholicVote, who claimed that, “The FDA’s reckless removal of basic safeguard on dangerous abortion drugs endanger women every single day.” [Newsmax, The National Report, 3/26/24]
    • Reporting on the case, Newsmax’s Chris Salcedo referred to current mifepristone regulations as “lax” and only summarized the plaintiff’s argument. He incorrectly stated that “In 2016, the FDA made changes to allow the pill to be more widely available, either by online order or mail delivery.” He then claimed, “Several cases of threats to women's health have been reported since then. The plaintiffs say the drug is dangerous and should be administered under the care of a licensed physician.” [Newsmax, The Chris Salcedo Show, 3/26/24]
  • Right-wing media are claiming that the “abortion industry” does not want restrictions on mifepristone because it would lower profits

    • Townhall published an article claiming, “A massive 46% (or $3.3 billion) of the FDA’s $7.2 billion 2024 budget comes from -- drum roll please -- pharmaceutical and medical device companies. No conflict of interest there, of course.” The article also stated, “Not only are the unborn violently denied their equality under law, but women are as well by a government agency that sides with pill-makers over people.” [Townhall, 3/27/24]
    • LifeNews posted on X, “Justice [Samuel] Alito hit the nail on the head in this Supreme Court case: The abortion industry doesn't care about the fact that the abortion pill kills and injures women because they want to sell more abortion drugs.” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
    • Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway claimed, “The FDA really sided with the abortion industry, which makes money off of abortion, not thinking, obviously, abortion is always fatal for the unborn child, but it can also cause serious complications for women.” Hemingway also claimed that Democrats are using the mifepristone case “in the hopes that it will gin up excitement” among their supporters. [Fox News, America Reports, 3/26/24]
    • Students for Life Action posted an article claiming that Associate Justice Samuel Alito told the FDA’s attorney that the abortion industry wants to forgo safety standards in favor of profit. The article reads, “Justice Alito asked Ellsworth what she was complaining about as the Fifth Circuit Decision allowed the business of Chemical Abortion to continue, but with more safeguards for women. Your ‘injury,’ he noted to the abortion industry pitch-woman, is that you believe you’ll sell more product without the safety standards in place.” [Students for Life Action, 3/26/24]