HomeoldNo, abortion pills aren’t safer than Tylenol

No, abortion pills aren’t safer than Tylenol

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Abortion activists have repeatedly claimed that abortion pills are safer than Tylenol.

As far as I can tell, by that they mean that annually there are more ER visits related to Tylenol (acetaminophen toxicity) than to abortion pills. If more people each year are going to the ER because of Tylenol than because of abortion pills, abortion pills must be safer, right? (No, not right. Read on.)

Rates of ER visits

The above comparison ignores the fact that 60 million Americans take acetaminophen at least weekly, meaning there are at least 3.12 billion doses taken per year. There are an estimated 56,000 ER visits per year for acetaminophen toxicity, so out of 3.12 billion doses that’s a 0.002% ER visit rate.

How many women take abortion pills per year? Guttmacher estimates about 54% of abortions are done via pills, and documented 930,160 abortions in the U.S. in 2020, which would suggest roughly 502,000 abortions via pills in 2020. That means only 9 women in an entire year would need to go to the ER after taking abortion pills to get the same ER visit rate as the rate for acetaminophen.

But of course the number of women going to the ER because of abortion pills is much higher than that. This study found that 6% of such women went to ERs or urgent cares, an ER visit rate 3,000x higher than that for acetaminophen. Out of over 500,000 medication abortions, that would translate to over 30,120 women going to the ER or urgent care per year.

Rates of hospitalizations or serious complications

But an ER visit doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious problem. It’s possible someone would get scared, go to the ER to be safe, and learn that nothing is wrong. So instead let’s compare rates of actual hospitalization.

Acetaminophen toxicity involved 2,600 hospitalizations in a year. Out of 3.12 billion doses, that’s a hospitalization rate of 0.00008%. The abortion pill study found a “serious adverse event” rate of 0.9%, which included a hospitalization rate of 0.7%, or a hospitalization rate over 8,750x higher than the rate for acetaminophen. Out of over 500,000 medication abortions, that would translate to over 3,500 women who took abortion pills being hospitalized per year.

And these comparisons are all for acetaminophen toxicity, meaning people taking way more Tylenol than they are supposed to, compared to people taking the abortion pills as recommended.

None of this necessarily means that abortion pills are extremely dangerous. It depends on what we consider “dangerous” and what comparison group we’re using (e.g. they are more dangerous than Tylenol but perhaps they’re safer than cigarettes, which are also legal).

But unqualified characterizations of abortion pills as “extremely safe” warrant some suspicion. And claiming abortion pills are safer than Tylenol is just incorrect.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Secular Pro-Life and is reposted with permission.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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