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  • A study about so-called abortion reversal just got pulled because of ethical concerns

    BuzzFeed news reported that a study about the scientifically unproven method to stop an abortion -- championed by anti-choice activists -- lacked "formal ethical approval"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a published study about the practice of so-called abortion reversal had been pulled from a scientific journal due to ethical concerns, further proving that one of right-wing and anti-abortion media's favorite talking points is nothing more than harmful junk science.

    BuzzFeed News’ Azeen Ghorayshi wrote that the study by well-known anti-choice personality George Delgado had “been temporarily withdrawn from” the April edition of the Issues in Law & Medicine journal “because [the study] falsely claimed to have received formal ethical approval.” The study hinges on Delgado’s belief that people seeking medication abortions can reverse the procedure by taking only the first pill required in the two-pill regime. The person would then be injected with “a large dose of progesterone to—in theory—reverse the effects of mifepristone” in the first pill. To prove this theory, Delgado set up a hotline in 2012 for people who were seeking abortion reversals and published a limited study about the procedure that same year.

    Delgado’s theory caught fire in right-wing and anti-abortion media, with outlets including The Daily Wire and Live Action publishing accounts from people who had supposedly successfully reversed their abortions. When pro-choice organizations warned that abortion reversal was both scientifically unproven and potentially dangerous, outlets including The Federalist attacked these organizations as “anti-science” and said they were ignoring “the scientific reality of abortion pill reversal for a more ideological reason.” Anti-abortion site Life News inaccurately claimed that opposition to abortion reversal stemmed from a financial incentive for providers to continue performing abortions. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard alleged that pro-choice advocates didn’t “really want women to choose to change their minds.”

    Then, in April 2018, Delgado and several co-authors published another study alleging the efficacy of the practice in the Issues in Law & Medicine journal. As Ghorayshi reported after publication, “the University of San Diego — which employs two of Delgado’s coauthors — launched an investigation into the study’s ethical approval.” The university then “asked for the paper to be withdrawn, spokesperson Pamela Payton told BuzzFeed News, because it had ‘ambiguous’ wording regarding the university’s ethics board, ‘leading many readers to incorrectly conclude that the [school] reviewed and approved the entire study.’”

    According to Delgado, the issue was “just a technical problem,” and that his team would “redo” the ethics review (although, as BuzzFeed noted, it’s not entirely clear how such a “redo” would work.) However, there is ample reason to believe that even if Delgado could “redo” the ethics review, the outcome would be largely the same because of his ideological viewpoint and the proven structural flaws of his studies.

    As Diane J. Horvath-Cosper, a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, explained to Marie Claire, Delgado appears to have done his work “backwards, with a desired result in mind—one that would support an ideological agenda.” Marie Claire noted that Delgado has previously labeled abortion "a scourge and a plague on our society” and told a caller on a radio show during a 2013 guest appearance that even though the caller had AIDS, “it wasn’t acceptable to use condoms ever.”

    Delgado’s studies in 2012 and 2018 also suffered from several technical flaws. According to The Guardian, the 2012 study was “not done with the oversight of an ethical review committee.” Jezebel similarly reported that it also relied on an extremely small sample size of seven cases -- and Delgado considered only four of these cases successful. Although the April 2018 study had a larger sample size, it still relied on limited case studies, which HuffPost said are “the weakest form of scientific evidence because they lack control groups.” Newsweek further reported that the study “used a wide variety of injected progesterone protocols, ranging from one to more than 10 injections of unknown doses” and did not assess previous levels of progesterone in the subjects’ blood -- further skewing the reliability of the results.

    In general, anti-choice extremists like Delgado are making claims about “abortion reversal” as a tactic to promote the myth that abortion is pathologically linked to regret. In reality, this idea of abortion regret or, as some anti-abortion activists call it, “post-abortion syndrome,” has been widely discredited. To debunk claims that abortion reversal procedures are widely sought by patients who regret their decision, Rewire.News’ Sofia Resnick spoke to abortion provider Gabrielle Goodrick, who estimated “that she has seen six patients out of about 10,000 who did not want to continue their medication abortions after initiating the process” in the 16 years she has been a provider.

    Medical organizations have also weighed in to say that the science doesn’t back claims about reversal. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a report in August 2017 about alleged abortion reversal procedures, stating, “Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.” The report concluded that ACOG “does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medical abortion.” Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, told Refinery29, if a person simply decided not to take the second pill for a medication abortion, “there’s a good chance that the pregnancy would continue,” but “there’s no evidence” that injections of progesterone would work to “reverse” an abortion.

    Despite these issues, the junk science of abortion reversal has made its way into state laws in Idaho, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah, and Arizona, where abortion providers are required to inform patients seeking an abortion that there is an option to reverse it.

    Right-wing media, anti-abortion activists, and some lawmakers may continue to spread misinformation about the dubious efficacy of so-called abortion reversal procedures, but as BuzzFeed’s report demonstrates, the facts are piling up: This practice is based on junk science that is more likely to hurt than help.

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • How NY Times Fueled A Right-Wing Lie About So-Called "Sex-Selective" Abortions

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    The New York Times omitted critical context in reporting on a recently enacted Arkansas law that requires doctors to determine whether a person is choosing an abortion based on sex preference -- an approach based on the false premise that the practice is widespread.

    On March 30, Arkansas enacted a law requiring medical providers to ask a patient seeking an abortion whether she knows the sex of the fetus. If she does, she must be informed that sex-selective abortions are prohibited, and the doctor must also have access to her complete pregnancy history. In describing this legislation, the Times failed to include critical context about so-called “sex-selective” abortions -- a term used by anti-choice legislators as justification to restrict abortion even though there is little scientific evidence supporting the necessity of a ban on the practice. The Times also failed to mention that “sex-selective” abortion bans could have discriminatory effects on Asian Americans because of assumptions about their preferences based on stereotypes, which could effectively deny them access to abortion.

    Instead, the Times wrote only that Arkansas is the eighth state to enact a “sex-selective” abortion ban, explaining that such abortions "occur most frequently where there is a strong gender bias that manifests in a preference for sons." The lack of clarification helps perpetuate a harmful anti-abortion myth that has been frequently parroted in right-wing media.

    In the United States, anti-choice legislators often rely on the myth that "sex-selective" abortions are a common practice to justify further restricting access to abortion. In reality, “sex-selective” abortions are rare in the United States. Despite right-wing and anti-choice allegations that protections are needed against so-called “sex-selective” abortions, these bans have no basis in scientific research or the medical practices of abortion providers. In a study conducted in Illinois and Pennsylvania following the enactment of “sex-selective” abortion bans in those states, researchers found that “the bans were not associated with changes in sex ratios at birth.”

    Nevertheless, anti-choice lawmakers -- and in particular, those behind the Arkansas bill -- allege that such bans are necessary to protect against sex discrimination and prevent an imbalance of the gender ratio. Setting aside the fact that Arkansas’ population in 2015 was 50.9 percent female, as Vice News explained, “sex-selection abortions aren’t necessarily responsible for distorted gender ratios. Because there are multiple ways to ensure a fetus is a certain gender — for instance, parents are legally able to choose a fetus’s sex during in-vitro fertilization — it’s impossible to pinpoint why there might be more male babies born than female.”

    The Arkansas law itself is titled “An Act to Create the Sex Discrimination By Abortion Prohibition Act” -- suggesting that lawmakers are banning a form of sex discrimination. As Slate explained, however, anti-abortion groups have long employed this “kinda-sorta feminist” framing to justify their support for banning “sex-selective” abortions when in reality, “sex-selective abortion in the United States appears to be — you guessed it! — extremely, extremely rare.” Romper called the law “a deceptive masterpiece of legislative word-smithing” in its co-option of gender discrimination as a justification for its anti-choice purpose. For example, the Arkansas law states that “victims of sex-selection abortion are overwhelming female,” yet it offers no data or statistics on “sex-selective” abortions supposedly occurring in the United States.

    Beyond failing to clarify the fraudulent basis of “sex-selective” abortion bans, the Times also gave a platform to the Arkansas bill’s sponsor -- Republican Rep. Charlie Collins -- to promote racist stereotypes about non-white childbearers. Collins told the Times that the one-child policy in China prompted him to sponsor the bill, even though he had no evidence of sex-selective abortions occurring in Arkansas, or even in the United States. In fact, as a 2016 report from the Guttmacher Institute explained “in the United States, there is limited and inconclusive evidence that immigrants from [East and South Asia] -- or anywhere else -- are obtaining sex-selective abortions in this country.”

    As Rewire noted, the Arkansas bill and others like it effectively turn Asian Americans seeking abortions into “suspects” -- particularly because the law imposes harsh penalties on any medical provider who is found in violation. Rewire further explained that Arkansas’ bill is an example of state legislators using “false stereotypes and misleading language to deny Asian American women the same access to safe, confidential, and comprehensive reproductive care as anyone else.”

    By omitting critical context about the lack of evidence behind “sex-selective” abortion bans, as well as their racist underpinnings, The New York Times perpetuated and normalized harmful anti-choice misinformation that has little basis in reality.