With the constitutional right to an abortion overturned by the Supreme Court just weeks ago, there’s a national spotlight on abortion medication and contraceptives. Notorious anti-abortion outlets are using the moment to spread misinformation about these two types of drugs and deter their use, falsely claiming abortion medication is not safe, medicated abortions can be reversed, and that Plan B terminates pregnancy.
Many conservative states had prepped for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, with 13 states instilling trigger laws that would restrict abortion care soon after the Supreme Court’s decision and more likely to limit abortion later on. Republican legislators and anti-choice activists are also aiming to curb access to mifepristone and misoprostol, the two-drug regimen for medication abortions, on both the state and federal level. Some states already penalize its distribution via mail even though the Food and Drug Administration has permanently allowed the drugs to be mailed.
Additionally, right-wing lawmakers are also eyeing emergency contraceptives, which can be used up to three to five days after unprotected sex. Access to contraceptives is especially at risk as Justice Clarence Thomas named Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that protects contraception for married couples, as one of the precedents the court “should reconsider.” Confusion over the changing landscape of restrictions even led one locality to temporarily pause distribution of the popular contraceptive medication Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill. On top of these attacks, other medications that could induce abortions are being denied to patients despite being prescribed for reasons unrelated to reproductive health.
These conservative targets are more important than ever in the post-Roe era where reproductive health access is dwindling as clinics in abortion-hostile states close their doors. The safety and efficacy of the abortion pill and Plan B — which ends and prevents pregnancy, respectively — are well-documented to be safe and effective, making the campaign to limit their reach devastating. Nearly one in four women aged 22 to 49 who have had sex have used emergency contraception. Medicated abortions account for more than half of U.S. abortions.
For years, these same activists have tried to conflate contraception and abortion as a means of targeting both and further undermining the medications’ credibility. With little to no substantiation, anti-abortion activists have repeatedly peddled false claims that abortion medication is unsafe, medicated abortions can be reversed, and that Plan B terminates pregnancy. This kind of misinformation has reached far beyond traditional conservative media, spreading rampantly on Facebook and influencing misguided restrictions.
For people to make crucial health decisions in the wake of Roe’s reversal, it is important they have access to accurate information about both abortion medication and contraception. But anti-choice websites are doubling down on their misinformation efforts, framing abortion pills as dangerous, championing unsubstantiated “abortion pill reversal,” and spreading misinformation about Plan B.
- Life News published an article describing President Joe Biden’s initiative to protect abortion access as his “plan to kill babies.” The Biden administration spoke out about the need to protect medication abortion, which Life News wrote “basically starves the baby to death.” Citing the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an arm of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Life News exaggerated that medicated abortions are unsafe even though complications with the drugs being extremely rare.
- The Christian Broadcasting Network’s news site published a piece that also cited the Charlotte Lozier Institute to disparage the safety of abortion medication. The article additionally gave a platform to a spokesperson of the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, who falsely “told CBN News the abortion pill is particularly dangerous using telemedicine.” The piece further pushed misinformation that abortion pills may lead to infertility and even directed readers to an “abortion pill rescue network.”
- A Pregnancy Help News article adopted the anti-choice frame of “chemical abortion” to describe the administration of misoprostol and mifepristone and to make the largely common procedure appear much more intimidating. The article included quotes from a director at the anti-abortion organization Heartbeat International, which manages Pregnancy Help News, that the pills are “not critical or safe” and “truly dangerous.”
- Live Action hosted a livestream with Dr. Brent Boles from Heartbeat International, saying he is “debunking pro-abortion lies.” During the livestream, Boles claimed anyone (accurately) describing abortion pill reversal as unproven is “either ignorant or lying.” Lila Rose, livestream host and founder of Live Action, also promoted predatory hotlines for “pregnancy support” and an abortion pill reversal network.
- Pregnancy Help News claimed it is a “myth that chemical abortion is a one-way street.” In an article complaining about Facebook removing posts about abortion pill reversal after its fact-checkers flagged the misinformation, the outlet decried “Big Tech” for “censor[ing] life-affirming social media posts” because they don’t “align with their political stance.”
- Media Research Center’s blog NewsBusters published a piece with the title “Abortion Surge: Major Retailers Ration Plan B Pills” that deceptively tried to link Plan B and abortion even though the emergency contraception pills do not end pregnancies. NewsBusters also adopted problematic framing, sarcastically suggesting that chastity belts can be used to offset increased demand for Plan B.
- The Gateway Pundit similarly published an article with a title implying Plan B causes abortion: “Pregnancy Ending, Emergency Contraceptive Plan B, Limited By Major Retailers.” The article also discussed medication abortion without making a clear distinction between the purposes of the two types of drugs, which can confuse readers into thinking contraceptives end pregnancies.