The not-so-secret dangers of the abortion pill

Published October 19, 2023

Human Life Review

When abortion advocacy groups speak about medication abortion—a two-drug regimen comprised of mifepristone and misoprostol—they are quick to tout what they claim is its “stellar safety record,” going so far as to compare its use to over-the-counter medications used for pain relief.

Some supporters of the medication abortions suggest they could be safely sold over the counter, without medical supervision of any kind. The Boston Globe went so far as to editorialize in favor of the drugs being made available for purchase at the grocery store, with no physician involvement whatsoever.

Removing any safeguards on abortion drugs—selling them next to the vitamins and Band-Aids—will only increase the risk to women for misuse and abuse.

Cautionary tales involving medication abortion, both before and after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, are plentiful. Just last month, a Nebraska mother was sentenced for giving her teenage daughter, who was well into her third trimester of pregnancy, abortion pills that she obtained through the mail. Her daughter gave birth to a stillborn baby in the shower, and the two then attempted to burn the fetal remains before disposing of them in a field.

As the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of mifepristone and misoprostol only through the 10th week of pregnancy, those who use them past the recommended time increase their risk of complications, including hemorrhaging, infection, and uterine rupture.

Other potential hazards of eliminating restrictions on medication abortions include the very real possibility of men slipping the drug to unsuspecting pregnant women to induce unwanted abortions.

Timika Thomas’s experience with abortion medication is particularly harrowing. In 2019, the Las Vegas mother of four had two embryos implanted in her uterus after losing both of her fallopian tubes due to ectopic pregnancies. The fertility specialist treating her gave her two prescriptions for drugs that were meant to hormonally support her twins’ growth, and she headed to her local CVS pharmacy to fill them.

The pharmacy technician allegedly had difficulty reading the handwriting of Thomas’s doctor, and then erroneously entered the abortion drug misoprostol to be filled instead. Misoprostol is the second of the two drugs used to chemically end pregnancies. It induces intense cramping to expel the developing fetus from the uterus. The supervising pharmacist did not catch the error, and, when Thomas came to pick up her medications, the dispensing pharmacist failed to offer her the required counseling and did not inquire if she had any questions about the drug. After taking it, she miscarried both of her babies within hours. Thomas brought a complaint to the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy, where she was offered an apology and CVS was fined $10,000. The two pharmacists involved in the medication mix-up were sanctioned and fined, and they temporarily lost their licenses.

A challenge to the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, the first of the two drugs in the abortion regime, continues to wind its way through the legal system, possibly to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, both mifepristone and misoprostol are relatively easy to obtain and, without physician oversight, relatively easy to be misused.

Tamika Thomas was unable to file a civil lawsuit against CVS and their pharmacists because the statute of limitations had already passed. Thomas noted, “All I got was a sorry. It will never be good enough.”

EPPC Cardinal Francis George Fellow Mary Hallan FioRito is an attorney, public speaker, and radio show and podcast host. Her areas of expertise are human life issues, primarily abortion law and policy, post-abortion aftermath, and the Consistent Ethic of Life. She holds a degree in English Literature from Loyola University Chicago and a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola University School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois.

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