By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research
Editor’s note. Today’s repost from an article that appeared a year ago in NRL News Today is an invaluable contribution in helping you separate the wheat from the chaff when analyzing “scientific” studies.
It seems to occur every month or so. Take your pick because the list seems endless.
The media touts the latest abortion study purporting to show that chemical abortions cannot be reversed; that women can have an abortion safely with pills bought off the Internet; that there are no serious physical or psychological consequences for women who undergo multiple abortions; that aborting women are better off socially and economically; that abortion laws have no impact on the incidence of abortion; that abortion funding decreases abortion, etc., etc.
It’s hard to keep up every article they publish in the medical journals. Our opponents may not be pro-life, but they are prolific. As soon as you plump down $35 for a copy of their latest study (it’s either that or something like a $700 a year subscription), there’s a new one appearing in another journal by another team of abortionists trying to shore up their corner of the lucrative abortion business.
Most of these “studies” look super-scientific, written by teams of researchers from some of the nation’s top research institutions. They are full of data charts and graphs, heavy with citations, published in some of the nation’s top journals.
But if you look closely, study those charts, follow those citations, learn how to read between the lines, do some critical analysis and apply basic logic and common sense, you may find that their claims and conclusions don’t always withstand scrutiny. Sometimes, read carefully enough, you’ll see they even prove the opposite of what they claim!
Though covering what looks like a broad range of topics, a lot of these are by the same handful of authors. They use some of the same questionable methods, make the same mistakes, and jump to the same unwarranted conclusions over and over again.
How can you tell if this is just pro-abortion spin? Here are a few of the more common faults of these pseudoscientific “studies.”
It comes from the usual suspects
Look at the studies on abortion that appear in the major medical journals and you’ll see a lot of the same names over and over – Daniel Grossman, Beverly Winikoff, Elizabeth Raymond, Diana Greene Foster, Rebecca Gomperts, Mitchell Creinin, David Grimes, etc. These are not disinterested academicians. They are researchers who are intent on “proving” that abortion is safe and beneficial and abortionists who keep pushing the envelope to win approval of more self-managed–“Do-It-Yourself”–abortions.
And those “researchers” tend to be connected to the same institutions. They include Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, Gynuity, or the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) (“America’s Abortion Academy”) and one of its abortion dedicated institutes – the Bixby Center or Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH).
Add to this that a lot of these studies are funded by foundations and billionaires that have been bankrolling the abortion industry for years. The list includes George Soros and the Open Society Institute, the Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and of course Warren Buffet, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and all the sub-entities that serve as pass-throughs such as the New Venture Fund, the Hopewell Fund, and others. Their impact is enormous.
The media (and then later, the Supreme Court) made a lot of the reports issued by Daniel Grossman and the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP). They claimed that Texas laws on abortion and abortion funding closed abortion clinics, increased travel distance and wait times, and pushed many women to consider self-induced abortions. This, despite the fact that demand for abortion had been declining and clinics had been closing for years before the state passed HB2, the law then being considered by the courts.
Testimony provided by Daniel Grossman on travel distances and clinic closures was cited repeatedly by the majority in Whole Womens’ Health v Hellerstedt (2016), the decision that struck down Texas clinic and abortion safety standards.
Money from TxPEP came from the Susan T Buffett Foundation, which is also a big funder for UCSF, one of Daniel Grossman’s other employers. Grossman is now the Director for ANSIRH, the institutional home of the infamous “Turnaway” Study, responsible for some three dozen studies so far. As you read in NRL News Today, the Turnaway studies claimed that women receiving abortions are economically, socially, psychologically, and physically better off than those “denied” abortions.
Many of the studies now being touted for telemedical or largely do-it-yourself (DIY) chemical [”medication”] abortions come from an organization called Gynuity. Gynuity promises that abortion pills can be ordered over the Internet, that an online consult is sufficient, that ultrasounds and physical examinations (critical to determining gestational age and ruling out ectopic pregnancy) are not needed, and that Rh testing to ensure the survival of subsequent children is unnecessary.
Gynuity is hardly an objective scientific research institute. Created and headed by Beverly Winikoff, one of the activists responsible for bringing RU-486 (mifepristone) to the United States, “Gynuity Health Project has been at the forefront of efforts to increase women’s access to medical abortion in settings throughout the world” since its founding in 2004.
The point is simple. The studies produced and publicized by these experts are hardly the objective findings of disinterested neutral scientists. Rather they are the carefully crafted, highly selective, slanted and spun data manipulations of well placed, well-funded abortion activists.
They are smart, they are often highly technical, and they often appear in some of the nation’s most prestigious journals (often referred by colleagues and supporters). That doesn’t change the fact that they are still the highly processed propaganda of activists with abortion agendas and must be viewed with an extremely critical eye.
If you wanted to get opinions on the moral character of cats in your community, you’d get quite different results by checking with the mice than you would with the cats. Yet these abortion advocates consistently ask their questions of people somehow already inclined to agree with the views of those researchers.
Consider one of the celebrated observations of the highly touted Turnaway study. Diane Greene Foster and her UCSF colleagues asserted in one of the first initial reports that women “denied” abortions reported higher levels of regret and anger, and lower levels of “relief” and happiness than their aborting counterparts. But who were the women in this sample?
All of the women in this study were selected from the waiting rooms of some of America’s prominent abortion clinics. This was not some random sample, but women who had already bought the sales pitch and were committed to having abortions.
Their agreeing to participate in the survey and to stay in touch for a number of years was already an indicator that, unlike many other women, they were not in any way embarrassed or ambivalent or still processing doubts or concerns about their abortion decision.
When Greene Foster and her colleagues assert that, one week out, 97% of aborting women felt they made the right decision and that 65% of those “denied” abortions still wished they had been able to obtain them, it reveals more about the bias of the study than it does about women’s ultimate post-abortion reactions.
Given the timing and the makeup of the initial sample, the reported results are hardly remarkable. These women who did not abort were dealing with the immediate frustration of having their wishes denied and were having to come to terms with a future they thought they had safely set aside.
Their reactions, given their initial commitments, were quite understandable. Even so, note that they had not yet, from the data given at that point, actually experienced the joy of having met their child.
That’s why the timing of the survey matters. Once the child was born, only one in eight were still saying they still wished they could have had the abortion. Five years out, the figure was only 4%.
Not surprisingly, if your sample is comprised of women who are already sold on and organizing their life plans around the fairy tale peddled by the abortion industry (that abortion will solve their problems), and you strategically ask them right when all their plans seem to be falling apart, you’ll get the sort of results that appear to support your pro-abortion presuppositions–that women having abortions are better off than those who considered aborting but didn’t.
But you’ll get quite different results if you check with other women who may have listened to the still, small voice inside them or even, a few years later, with abortion-minded women who had their babies anyway.
Lots of forgotten women
Look at nearly any large study of aborting women and you’ll notice one common feature – lots of women are “lost to follow-up.”
Any long term study inevitably deals with the disappearance of test subjects as people move, break contact, lose interest. However, this appears to be a particularly egregious problem for abortion studies. They lose track of large numbers of patients precisely when and where the tracking of patients is the critical concern of the study.
For example, a 2019 study of 5,952 webcam (telemedical) abortions in four western states by researchers from Planned Parenthood, ANSIRH, and the UCSF Bixby Center concluded these abortions were about as safe as those chemical abortions where a woman met with the clinician in person.
There are a number of problems with this study, but here’s the largest. The researchers arrived at this conclusion even while losing track of a quarter of the clinic patients and nearly 40% of those telemedicine patients!
On paper, ongoing pregnancy and follow up surgical aspiration rates (for abortion, bleeding) along with ER visits for “major adverse events” were considerably lower for the telemedical abortions. But it was difficult to consider these data credible. What legitimate medical reason could account for an ongoing pregnancy rate among telemedical patients that is less than a third of that for women visiting the clinic?
Researchers realize that high numbers of patients lost to follow up are a problem and admit that these women may have simply sought help elsewhere. But they fail to acknowledge how seriously this threatens to undermine their conclusion about telemedical abortion’s relative safety.
Given the opportunity to avoid returning to the clinic or avoiding it altogether, many women will do just that. They do not have a legitimate doctor-patient relationship with the abortionist, who they may have only interacted with for a few minutes, nor do they necessarily have confidence in their skills to handle an emergency. Simpler, easier, and perhaps more comfortable to rely on one’s own personal doctor or even the trauma-trained emergency physicians at the ER.
Researchers know these claims of abortion’s safety are questionable when so many women fail to return for follow up, so some have attempted to supplement this with data from area Emergency Departments or ERs.
Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the four-state study above, did an earlier study in Iowa in 2017. That study compared 8,765 telemedical abortions with 10,405 chemical abortions involving a clinical visit. He concluded that complications or “adverse events” were rare with chemical abortion and that telemedical abortions were “non-inferior” [not worse than] in-person chemical abortions with regard to those complications.
While generally relying on data collected by clinicians at Planned Parenthood managing both types of abortions, Grossman also attempted to validate that data by surveying the 119 emergency departments in the state. However sensible the impulse, the actual process was largely unproductive and unrevealing as barely a third of those departments responded.
Most of those that did respond didn’t recall seeing any chemical abortion patients with complications. Even this observation, however, depended on the person responding to the letter recalling the incident, being on shift at the time of the incident or being informed of it. And, of course, a woman had to be willing to identify herself as someone who had taken the abortion pill.
We know that women may not be inclined to share such details with doctors, but the situation is much worse than that. Some promoters of the abortion pill have flatly told women that they don’t need to inform medical personnel because those personnel won’t be able to tell the difference between that and miscarriage. If so, whatever ER directors or staff report may not be all that informative.
If women having a bad experience with chemical abortion are more likely to seek help elsewhere than to return to the clinic that sold them the pills, or if they simply prefer a location that is closer with round the clock emergency specialists, then claims of safety, satisfaction, and efficacy won’t mean much when a study shows large numbers of patients lost to follow up.
Downplaying and disregarding data they don’t like
In 2018 George Delgado published his study showing that a chemical abortion could be reversed in up to 68% of cases if the woman had taken only mifepristone — the first drug of the two drug chemical abortion cocktail — and been administered oral doses of progesterone instead of the second drug misoprostol normally used to finish the abortion. In response, noted abortion researcher Mitchell Creinin announced that he would conduct a “proper” scientific trial to rebut the myth.
He kicked off what was supposed to be a trial of at least 40 women in December of 2018. Women who were 44 to 63 days pregnant who had taken mifepristone would then be given other pills to see if their abortions could be reversed. Half would receive progesterone, the other half placebos.
In a dramatic announcement, Creinin halted the trial early, after treating just twelve patients. Why? “Safety problems.” Three of the 12 women he treated had bleeding so severe that they had to be transported to the hospital for treatment.
Creinin said he “did not expect women to bleed like this” and that he stopped the study because he “couldn’t continue to enroll women and put them at the same kind of risk.” Though he considered the findings “inconclusive” given the study’s truncation, he said that preliminary findings suggested that the commonly accepted abortion reversal regimen could have serious health consequences (The Cut, 12/16/19)
The results were limited, and the bleeding problems of at least two of those women were particularly serious, but a data table eventually released along with Creinin’s study actually appeared to show progesterone working to reverse chemical abortions with limited complications.
Ten women remained after two patients quit the study early and had surgical abortions. Three of the remaining ten had the aforementioned bleeding problems. Two of those were in fact patients who received the placebo rather than the progesterone. The bleeding of the woman who had received the progesterone stopped within three hours of her arrival at the emergency room, with no further treatment required.
Note that four of the patients who received the progesterone boosts still had “continuing pregnancies at the two week point.” Just two of placebo patients were still pregnant at that point.
The press willingly interpreted Creinin’s results as if he showed that abortion pill reversal was dangerous. But, in fact, what the data actually seemed to show was that reversal with progesterone often worked. If there was a cautionary message in the results, it was that failing to offer progesterone after the mifepristone appeared to lead to severe bleeding.
This wasn’t the message reported in the press. The actual results didn’t fit the media and pro-abortion narrative and somehow got lost in the shuffle.
Measuring success in dead babies
One of the more obvious yet most often overlooked disqualifying features of a pseudo-scientific abortion study is simply that it measures the success of a given treatment or method in terms of whether one of its patients – the unborn baby – dies.
Is a new surgical technique effective? Does a new chemical abortifacient work? Can women have DIY abortions at home with drugs bought over the Internet?
As long as at least 93% of the unborn babies involved lose their lives without a considerable portion of injuries or deaths among their mothers, their considered scientific opinion is “yes.” Abortion researchers obtain those results and deem the drug or the method or the technique “safe” and “effective” and a new way of killing an unborn child is hailed in the medical journals and in the press.
That this is such an obvious and flagrant violation of medical ethics – which is supposed to be devoted to the preservation, not destruction of human life – never seems to cross their minds. Their callous disregard for the child’s humanity is clear even in the clinical language they use – fertilized egg, conceptus, embryo, fetus, POC (product of conception).
Most of the time, the baby is not even mentioned, only whether or not the “contents of the uterus” are “emptied” and the abortion is “complete.”
Though ostensibly done for the sake of the mother, or “the woman,” the callousness extends to her as well. Any negative emotional reaction on her part to the abortion is delegitimized and any risk to her own wellbeing is minimized.
She is asked to accept the indignity of surgical abortion, the pain and bleeding of chemical abortion. Sometimes she is asked to donate her baby’s dead body to the greater good of “science.”
If a certain number of women bleed to death from a punctured uterus, or die from a rare infection, or die from a cancer triggered by their abortions, as far as they are concerned, so be it.
So long as most of the babies die and most of the mothers survive, the study is considered a “success.”