Boxes of mifepristone, the first pill given in a medical abortion, are pictured in a Jan. 13 photo. OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters

Abortion pill new front line of pro-life battle

  • April 19, 2023

The battle raging in the United States over the abortion pill mifepristone has shown how far the front lines of the abortion battle have changed.

The advent of RU-486 (mifepristone), which induces a miscarriage in a pregnancy less than 10 weeks, has seen many abortions being carried out with a chemical agent.

Where once pro-life efforts were predominantly targeting abortion clinics with protests and engaging women seeking their services, technological advances in recent years — from the pill itself and how it can now easily be ordered online — has forced pro-life organizations to shift their focus.

“Those working in the pro-life movement know that abortion mills are not so much our ‘front line’ anymore,” said Mary Helen Moes, the executive director of the Toronto-based Aid to Women crisis pregnancy organization. “It is your phone. Women facing a crisis pregnancy today reach out and search through their devices for help.”

It’s forced agencies like Aid to Women to change their ways.

“Aid to Women is moving with them, reaching out through Google search engines, social media and online advertising to connect with them in the way they want, online, by text or by phone,” said Moes. “We’re meeting them where they are, not where we are, and offering them an empathetic and understanding ear while leading them to the path of life for their child.”

Moes said this new approach has already helped “save 89 babies from abortion.”

Josie Luetke, director of education and advocacy for the Campaign Life Coalition in Canada, expects “the usage of these pills to become even more prevalent (in Canada), as a majority of abortions in the United States (and many other countries) are now chemical.” Recent stats show almost 40 per cent of abortions in Canada are via the abortion pill.

As is so often the case in the United States, it’s the courts where the abortion issue is settled — or at least settled enough until the next challenge is made. It’s playing out that way right now, as on April 7, Texas-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk suspended the approval of amifepristone, which has been available in the American marketplace for over two decades.

Kacsmaryk initiated his 67-page ruling with a summary of how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “stonewalled judicial review — until now” by ignoring the plaintiff’s (Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine) petitions against RU-486 (mifepristone) for “over 16 years even though the law requires an agency response within ‘180 days of receipt of the petition.’ ”

A significant reason the judge opted to invalidate the drug was that the FDA “entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem by omitting any evaluation of the psychological effects of the drug or an evaluation of the long-term medical consequences of the drug,” Kacsmaryk wrote in his decision.

Kacsmaryk delayed the applicability of this order for seven days to permit the federal government to seek injunctive relief from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On April 12, the appellate court narrowed the scope of the ruling. Access to the drug has been preserved — for now — but it can only be dispensed up to seven weeks instead of 10, and it can no longer be distributed via mail-order. On April 14, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito announced a temporary pause of the order. He asked both sides to submit arguments by April 18 over whether the pill restrictions should be enforced while this cases makes its way through the courts. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a response later in the week, after The Register’s press deadline. 

Any decision combatting mifepristone and other pills is a welcome development to Luetke.

“The purpose of the abortion drug is to kill a human being,” wrote Luetke in an email. “There’s plenty of discussion about whether the pills are safe or not, and such a discussion is nonsensical in light of this understanding that these pills are unsafe for the preborn child by design.”

Luetke added that the Canadian chemical abortion protocol Mifegymiso — a two-drug combination of mifepristone and Misoprostol — can also lead to adverse side effects for the mother, including reproductive system disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, dizziness and fever. Abortion pills have caused rare fatalities too. In January, Campaign Life reported on a 19-year-old woman who died the previous summer from septic shock after taking the drug.

The COVID-19 pandemic played its role in popularizing the chemical method of abortion. In an academic paper released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in February 2022, co-authors Lauren Vogel and Greg Basky wrote that even in the years before COVID-19, mifepristone’s availability was on the rise, but pandemic lockdowns changed the landscape even further. Abortion providers with no practice or expertise in telemedicine adapted to the terrain and began offering services virtually. 

“The abortionist would prescribe the pill for the woman through virtual medical appointment,” said Moes. “The woman would then pick up the prescription at the pharmacist and abort at home.”

Moes said her organization has also found women are accessing the pill via TikTok.

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