Mifepristone is safe. Journalists shouldn’t allow Erin Hawley to suggest otherwise.

On March 26, MSNBC hosted Erin Morrow Hawley, the lead attorney arguing before the Supreme Court against expanded access to the abortion pill mifepristone, for an interview that saw anchor Katy Tur failing to correct her suggestion that the medication is dangerous.

Tur began the interview by congratulating Hawley on arguing her first case in front of the Supreme Court and emphasizing Justice Neil Gorsuch’s question about why her clients, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, can’t just opt out of providing abortion care instead of imposing “a nationwide injunction” on mifepristone.

Hawley said that in emergency situations practitioners are not always able to opt out. After Tur repeatedly pressed her on the question, suggesting doctors could opt out in advance, Hawley reverted to fearmongering about the medicine, saying, “The FDA really was saying before the Supreme Court today that even acknowledging that one in 25 women go to the emergency room after taking mifepristone, that that didn’t matter.”

In fact, according to an amicus brief to the court, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical societies, hundreds of studies have proved mifepristone to be safe and effective.

The commonly used medication claims a 99.6% success rate, fewer than 0.5% of women experience “serious adverse reactions,” and the risk of death is “almost non-existent.” (The “one in 25” women in the ER claim is near the top end of a range of 2.9% to 4.6% from the FDA.) The FDA reports that only 32 women have died after taking mifepristone, and it is unclear if the drug is the cause of death in all of these instances.

The amicus brief states, “Few drugs have been so extensively studied after their approval by FDA and can boast such a clear and compelling record of safe use.”

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Citation From the March 26, 2024, edition of MSNBC's Katy Tur Reports 

Tur pressed Hawley on whether her clients had actually been forced to give abortion care, but the host allowed Hawley’s misleading suggestions about the safety of mifepristone to go unchecked.

Tur’s failure to hold Hawley accountable comes on the heels of a glowing New York Times profile framing Hawley as a guardian against government regulation instead of an anti-science zealot advocating to enforce her draconian views on American women:

Ms. Hawley’s particular background makes her ideal for this moment. Her longtime interest in limiting the power of the administrative state is well suited to speak to the current court’s conservative supermajority, which has welcomed cases challenging regulations on everything from herring fish to machine guns and, now, abortion.

Journalist and former Media Matters writer Jamison Foser explained how this framing whitewashes the anti-abortion movement:

It is simply not honest to portray banning abortion as reducing government regulation. It is a lie; a dishonest attempt to square the conservative movement’s desires to control women and impose its values on the rest of the country with its rhetorical opposition to government regulation. The New York Times is lying to you. It is helping the anti-abortion movement spin bans on health care as anti-regulation, pro-limited-government efforts.

Banning pills that have been safe and effective is radical, and Tur owes it to her audience to correct Hawley’s misinformation, especially given the extreme conservative origins of the case and its proponents’ penchant for citing debunked scientific studies to justify the restriction of health care.