As more people turn to abortion medication, right-wing media pivot to attacking it
Anti-abortion doctors are spreading misinformation about mifepristone — used in the majority of US abortions — in conservative media
Following news that retail pharmacies will be able to distribute prescription medication used for abortions, anti-choice activists are flooding the right-wing media ecosystem with medical misinformation that falsely posits abortion medication as unsafe. This renewed attack on medication abortion is making it more difficult for pregnant people seeking credible information to make their own health care decisions.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that retail pharmacies in states where abortion is legal will be able to fulfill prescriptions for mifepristone, one of two medications used for abortions, after they’ve received a government certification. Three of the nation’s largest retail pharmacies — Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid — have already expressed their intent to distribute the medication.
Since Roe v. Wade’s reversal last year, medication abortion has become a particularly important safety net, as 14 states have harshly restricted or outright banned abortion, leading dozens of clinics to stop offering abortion care. Demand for abortion medication has surged in states with restrictions, and most abortions in the U.S. are now performed through medication. On January 25, the maker of mifepristone filed a lawsuit hoping to expand access of the medication to states with abortion bans, arguing that the FDA’s approval of the drug in 2000 makes restricting its distribution illegal.
With Roe’s reversal, the political right has pivoted from fixating on the Supreme Court to seizing on medication abortion, with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists helping lead the way. AAPLOG is a group of anti-abortion doctors whose mission is to leverage their professional credentials to stigmatize abortion care and scare away pregnant people seeking abortions by spreading medical misinformation. Now, as medication abortion has become a renewed object of conservative attention, right-wing outlets are increasingly turning to AAPLOG’s leaders as expert opinions undermining mifepristone.
Here’s how conservative media are doubling down on their misinformation efforts as the anti-abortion movement moves on past Roe:
- After the FDA announced that retail pharmacies could dispense mifepristone prescriptions, AAPLOG’s outgoing CEO Dr. Donna Harrison appeared on the conservative TV network Newsmax on two different programs on January 10. On The National Report, Harrison stressed that the FDA’s announcement was “scientifically and medically irresponsible” and overstated the possibility of the rare side effects of taking the medication in an effort to scare patients away. Harrison also fearmongered that the distribution of medication abortion would lead to the “enablement of both abusers and pimps,” even though pregnant people denied an abortion are actually more likely than people who have abortions to be tethered to abusive relationships.
- In a January 14 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Harrison falsely warned that medication abortion is “never safe” and fearmongered about potential side effects of mifepristone, claiming that the medication could lead to “the kind of bleeding one might see in a major motor vehicle accident.” (Bleeding is a normal side effect of taking abortion medication, but the description Harrison gave is much less common.)
- On January 5, anti-abortion site Pregnancy Help News quoted a representative from the extremist evangelical group Family Research Council that selling medication abortion “will transform pharmacies from centers of healing into centers of death.” Anti-choice activist Lila Rose likened distributing mifepristone to “dispensing lethal poison alongside antibiotics and allergy medication.” Pregnancy Help News also cited research from the Charlotte Lozier Institute (a branch of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America) and AAPLOG, both organizations known for spreading misinformation on abortion.
- Pregnancy Help News published a similar piece on January 22 centered around a speech from AAPLOG CEO-elect Dr. Christina Francis at the 2023 National Pro-Life Summit held by Students for Life of America. While peddling misinformation about medication abortion, Francis claimed that “women deserve to have accurate information” and decried what she described as “the abortion industry and unfortunately its allies in the medical profession” in a speech titled “Debunking the Myths of Chemical Abortion.” Francis falsely claimed that medication abortion is more unsafe than surgical abortion and promoted the concept of abortion pill reversal — which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists described as “unproven and unethical” but Pregnancy Help News referred to as a “ray of hope.”
- An opinion piece featured in Townhall on January 12 attacked CVS and Walgreens as “neighborhood abortion drug dealers” because of the pharmacies’ plans to distribute prescription mifepristone. Even though abortion medication is extremely safe, the piece suggested the hangers used in illegal abortions have been replaced by mifepristone — an extremely fraught comparison used to falsely paint medication abortions as “fundamentally dangerous, physically risky, and even deadly.” Further, the article recommended pregnant people visit the deceptively named “pregnancy help centers,” another name for so-called crisis pregnancy centers that dissuade visitors from receiving abortions under the guise of providing actual support.
- A January 20 Daily Caller article quoted AAPLOG’s Francis criticizing the embrace of medication abortion post-Roe as proof that “medicine, in general, is moving in a more pro-death direction.” The piece also cited Dr. Ingrid Skop, a representative from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, who similarly fearmongered about standard reproductive health care and stated that “the battle is not over and the battleground has shifted” after Roe, adding that medication abortion is “one of the things we are having to fight.”
In addition to right-wing media undermining mifepristone’s proven safety and efficacy, GOP politicians in Alabama and South Dakota have threatened criminal charges for dispensing or taking abortion medications, and a coalition of anti-abortion activists are suing to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone.
Conservative media’s moral panic against mifepristone isn’t new: Many of the same narratives have been recycled from previous fearmongering when the medication was permanently approved for mail distribution in December 2021 and when Roe was officially overturned in June 2022.