A failed attempt to defend removal of safety provisions for women undergoing chemical abortions — Part One of Two

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research

On August 10, 2020, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Live Action’s Lila Rose published an article in National Review calling for the federal government to reinstitute safety precautions for the distribution of mifepristone, the “abortion pill.” “Women procuring abortion drugs without proper education or evaluation are at greater risk of complications and death due to undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy, hemorrhaging, infection, and more,” they wrote.

It was a good piece, pointing out the devastating toll of this drug–part of a two-drug abortion technique—not only on unborn life but its association with a large number of deaths and injuries among pregnant women. This is hardly the sort of profile one should expect of a drug approved by the FDA that is supposed to be dedicated to healing and curing, to extending, rather than ending, human life.

Abortion advocates didn’t like the opinion piece. And one in particular, Daniel Grossman, a noted abortion researcher and activist from one of the abortion training academy University of California – San Francisco’s research institutes, decided it would be clever to rebut it, piece by piece. His series of tweets was picked up on the comicsands website (https://www.comicsands.com/expert-fact-checks-ted-cruz-2646966165.html).

Some of what he wrote was the usual argument over data and terminology, but Grossman’s tweets actually served to spotlight the fundamental differences that exist between the pro-life and pro-abortion camps.  Basically, we believe in the sanctity of every human life—unborn child  and mother. They deny any protection for unborn children and are cynically willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of some of their mothers for the sake of the larger abortion cause. And that doesn’t even reach the issue of the thousands of “adverse events” women have experienced.

Arguing over numbers – how many deaths matter?

When Sen. Cruz and Lila Rose point out that mifepristone has been associated with the deaths of over 3.7 million children and at least 24 women, Grossman wants to dispute the numbers. He argues that eleven of the deaths of patients reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were actually due to things like drug overdoses or homicide.  “It’s unfortunate,” said Grossman, but “not related.”

This rhetorical move is troubling on many counts. 

First, even if some are less directly related than others, it does not change the fact that more than a dozen women’s deaths are clearly associated with their use of the abortion pill. These women hemorrhaged and picked up deadly infections immediately after taking the abortion pill. That process was somehow the trigger. 

When their ectopic pregnancy ruptured, it was missed because of the similarity of its signs to the pain and bleeding normally expected of chemical abortion. Real women died taking the pills that Grossman defends, and Grossman knows it.

Second, for those that truly understand abortion’s broader social and psychological impact, it is not accurate to label deaths due to overdose or homicide or suicide as “unrelated.”  As studies like Mika Gissler’s 2005 analysis of more than 1.1 million pregnancies in Finland from 1987-2000 show, injury, homicide, and suicide rates were all more than five times higher for aborting women than for women giving birth. (Mika Gissler, et al, “Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000,” European Journal of Public Health, October 2005.)  

More explanation may be needed, but the association is clearly more than a random one.

Third, in selectively dismissing eleven of the 24 deaths reported in the U.S., Grossman fails to note that the same FDA report mentions the deaths of eleven additional women it knows of in other countries who took mifepristone. As you would expect, advocates rarely, if ever, even mention these women who died from hemorrhage, infections, heart attack, a ruptured ulcer, etc. These cases are clearly directly related.  These eleven additional cases bring us closer to the two dozen cases that Sen. Cruz and Rose mentioned in the beginning.

This means the numbers Grossman tries to make an issue don’t line up his way.

The larger issue, of course, is that whatever the number—and these totals are as 2018– Grossman does not deny that the pills may be responsible for some women’s deaths. He simply argues that this is outweighed by 3.7 million uses— that is, 3.7 million successfully aborted babies. In Grossman’s view, those dozen or two dozen maternal deaths are a kind of collateral damage, a cost compensated for by the supposed benefit of 3.7 million dead children.

Is Grossman for “killing innocent children” or not?

Grossman, not surprisingly, does not like to refer to these chemical abortions as the killing of babies.  In his series of tweets, he literally crosses through, with red ink, the word “killed” and the phrase “3.7 million children” and later the word “kill” when it refers to “the developing child.” 

Subsequently, he marks through a reference from Sen. Cruz and Lila Rose to “killing innocent children.” He specifically points to that phrase with a red arrow, labeling it the sort of “violent rhetoric which has led to violence towards abortion providers and people who have abortions.” 

It is unclear whether the trigger for Grossman is the word “killing” – when killing is what it obviously is, which is the point of the abortion pill – or “innocent” – of what offense is the fetus supposed to be guilty? – or “children” – which is the appropriate term for human offspring.  Maybe it is the whole phrase “killing innocent children”? Something obviously rankles him about this true characterization of what he does and the product he promotes. 

That Grossman merely sees this as troubling rhetoric rather than troubling reality perhaps explains why he fails to understand why so many find the use of this pill, and his cause, so ghastly.

Something else Grossman does makes one wonder whether he is ignorant of basic fetology, deliberately deceptive, doesn’t care about accuracy, or is just in denial.  When Sen. Cruz and Lila Rose point out that the child at ten weeks has “arms, eyelids, toes, fingers, and organs,” Grossman crosses out “at which point” and remarks that “Of course the embryo is growing, that’s how pregnancy works.” 

Having said that, he is quick to add that “however they are not fully formed in the first trimester” and links to a website about what you can see on a 5-week ultrasound! 

Embryology textbooks clearly show development of the brain, heart, and spinal cord all well underway by the five week milestone. But—no surprise– the website Grossman picks focuses merely on what is visible by ultrasound. It claims that “you’ll likely only see the yolk sac and the gestational sac — and many not even that.”

If that sounds off, read other material on the website closely and you’ll see this isn’t even the fifth week of the child’s life. It is, rather, what obstetricians, measuring from the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP), call the fifth week of pregnancy, when the child is just three weeks old. The child is smaller, less developed, but even at this early point, that small child’s heart may be beginning its first halting beats. 

Grossman never offers any data showing us that this is when most chemical abortions occur. He couldn’t, because there isn’t any.  Women usually wait a bit longer to determine that they are pregnant. This is why Grossman and his colleagues were so anxious for the FDA to extend use of the drug from seven weeks LMP to ten (and they advocate use later than that), when the child is, as Cruz and Rose point out, much more developed.  

This is clearly not a rebuttal on Grossman’s part. It is an attempted diversion, an effort to revive a version of the classic “blob of tissue” argument, and a poor one at that.

In Part Two, we will further explore Grossman’s “rebuttal,” including his failed attempt to minimize the dangers to women; the use of medical associations with decades of vigorous support of abortion to legitimize his conclusions; and the classic “abortion is safer than childbirth” ploy.