NRLC Director of Education submits new testimony telling Idaho legislative committee danger of chemical abortions may be grossly underestimated

By Dave Andrusko

Yesterday NRL News Today brought you the encouraging news that the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee had passed the Physician Physical Presence Women Protection Act of 2015 on a vote of 7-2 and that the bill was now on its way to the full Senate. This bill, which requires abortionists to perform in-person exams when they use chemical abortifacients, had already passed the House, 55-17.

We’d previously posted the testimony of Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon, Director of Education & Research for National Right to Life, before the House State Affairs Committee.

Today we’d like to share part of his very important follow up testimony that was shared with the Senate State Affairs Committee.  In his House testimony, Dr. O’Bannon talked a great deal about the documented risks associated with use of the chemical abortion method using mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs that make up the “RU-486” abortion technique.

In his Senate testimony, he “addressed a few questions that came up about this data and claims about the safety of mifepristone/misoprostol abortions in general” and “the assertion made by some that a desire to limit web-cam abortions is somehow an attack on telemedicine in general.” In a web-cam abortion, the woman never sees the abortionist in person; their only interaction is via teleconferencing.


Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

The data I cited from the FDA summary [2,200 complications and 19 deaths] are not handpicked results from some selective field trial.  Pro-lifers don’t do studies testing the safety of abortion drugs.  Those tests are done by promoters, distributors of these pills, those who have some vested interest in the outcomes.  These numbers from the FDA are complications and deaths reported to the agency itself.  Real complications, real consequences, real people.

It would be very difficult to make the argument that the FDA was biased, at least in our direction.  The FDA is the agency that approved the drug [RU-486], against our wishes and over the objections of many in the medical field, even some who identified themselves as pro-choice feminists, who foresaw serious problems.

As a government agency, they should be neutral. But if they have any institutional interest at all, it would seem to be in showing the method to be safe and effective, validating their original judgment to approve the drug.

These are cases documented by the nation’s premier drug agency, and they are numerous. They demonstrate  the complications and deaths reported here are real, not manufactured by opponents of abortion or of Planned Parenthood.

Furthermore, the personal details we have of some of those cases come not from pro-life blogs or conservative news sources, but mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and the  Los Angeles Times, as well as foreign newspapers with no stake in the American outcome.

This, like the postmarketing report from the FDA, shows that the risks are real, not theoretical, and that they affect real women’s lives, women who were in most of these cases, perfectly healthy before they took these dangerous pills.

Let’s talk about how the FDA got its data. The more you know about how this data was obtained, the more you understand how these cases may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

The FDA’s postmarketing report is a summary of “adverse events” or complications reported to the agency.  Though the FDA may investigate cases brought to its attention, it does not actively follow or track outcomes of patients using FDA-approved drugs.

Doctors who prescribe mifepristone were asked to sign a prescriber’s agreement that instructs them to report any adverse events to the drug’s distributor. But even if the prescriber and the distributor cooperate, there are flaws in the system.

Even if a doctor knows of and reports a complication, it may take several months to show up in the FDA’s adverse events reporting system.  Some incidents went unreported for years. They were discovered only after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began looking for additional cases once a few chemical abortion patients died from rare infections.

If a woman suffers a complication and reports back to the abortionist who gave her the pills, an “adverse event” report could be filed.  But if she instead chooses to go to her own personal physician, or to the Emergency Room, when something goes wrong, that report may never reach the FDA.

One thing that is common to a lot of these studies with the high success or safety rates touted by sellers and supporters of the pills is usually a high number of women “lost to follow up.” In other words women who come in and take the drugs but then are never heard from again.

Consider what I also reported in my earlier testimony. There is at least one major international promoter and provider of these abortion pills advising women they do not need to tell hospital staff that they have taken the drugs–telling patients that doctors can’t distinguish between a chemical abortion and a miscarriage. One can readily see why many failures and injuries might never be reported.

This is more than a theoretical outcome.  A January 2015 study by Ushma Upadhyay et al., which appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, looked at the records of Medi-Cal beneficiaries having abortions. It found the number of abortion-related complications that it recorded increased by more than 70% when Emergency Room visits were added in.

This means that, as bad as these numbers are from the FDA, the real numbers of complications connected to mifepristone and misprostol abortions are probably much higher.

This is not surprising.

The government itself has reported that, in general, it expects that only between 1 and 10 percent of adverse events are reported to the FDA [1]

One more note before moving on.  You might hear Upadhay’s study cited when people try to tell you that “medication” abortion has a 0.3% complication rate.

But these were only the major complications that required drastic measures like hospital admission, surgery, or blood transfusion.  When all abortion- related complications are considered, the complication rate jumps to 5.2% for chemical abortions, or greater than one in 20.

This might involve the bleeding or cramping or even infection that could be treated at the clinic by the doctor, but without a doctor available, they could turn into something far worse.

Finally, let me address the claim that sensible limits on this dangerous practice are somehow attacks on telemedicine.

National Right to Life and Idaho Right to Life have no quarrel with legitimate telemedicine.  When a patient is in desperate straits and help is far away, telemedicine may be a lifesaver. Telemedicine also makes sense when it is only a matter of consultation over some medical tests or records.  It can even be helpful in situations where someone is dealing with a minor sniffle or sore throat and needs a prescription phoned in.

But the web-cam abortion is none of these.

Web-cam abortions take perfectly healthy patients and put them in high-risk situations where they might need emergency surgery, where hands-on intervention suddenly becomes a necessity.  Help that, in this set up, may be unavailable.  Telemedicine was never designed for this.

If one is trying to save a life and there is no doctor available, telemedicine is a risk worth taking. For elective, and certainly for dangerous, procedures, it is an entirely different issue.

Web-cam abortions are not “cutting-edge” medicine, but the height of irresponsibility.

For all its technological bells and whistle, in one sense, it isn’t medicine at all. The process is not being used to heal someone, but to kill someone, the innocent unborn child.


Planned Parenthood and its pro-abortion allies may be seeking the cachet and prestige of cutting-edge medical technology, attempting to gain allies in the medical field by creating the illusion of common cause, and trying to draw new customers with the novelty. But what they offer is simply the same chemical abortion process but without the normal safeguards of an actual visit and examination of a doctor.

It’s all the terrible side effects of pain, cramping, and bleeding that accompany every chemical abortion plus the added danger of distance.

Act for the sake of women’s safety, not the dangerous expansion of the abortion industry.  Vote for HB154 today.

Thank you.

[1] J. Heinrich, “Adverse Drug Events: Substantial Problem but Magnitude Uncertain,” Testimony before U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, 2/1/2000.