Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fact-checking the MPR fact-checkers on RU486 abortions

By Jordan Marie Harris

This week, the Minnesota House of Representatives took up a commonsense measure that would require a doctor to be physically present when administering the dangerous abortion drug RU486 (mifepristone). This would afford women the dignity of a physical exam and evaluation by a physician—to ensure that she is a good candidate for taking this drug—before undergoing the chemical abortion.

RU486 in the United States has resulted in more than 2,200 "adverse events," or serious complications, including the deaths of at least 14 women, according to the FDA. Planned Parenthood recently began using a dispensation scheme in which women in Rochester speak with an abortionist located in St. Paul via video conferencing, and are then remotely administered the drug.

During floor debate, Rep. Joyce Peppin, chief author of the bill to require physicians to be physically present when administering RU486, emphasized safety concerns and made this claim: "The drug is so dangerous that it was banned in places like Canada and China, places that are very liberal on abortion policies in general."

MPR's "PoliGraph," the news outlet's political fact-checking service, concludes that Rep. Peppin's statement "leans toward false." However, MPR misses some key facts about RU486 and abortion in these countries.

While other drugs can be used for chemical abortions in Canada, RU486 has never been approved, legalized, or made available—even though abortion in general is legal for any reason throughout all of pregnancy. The commercial importation into Canada of RU486 (an unauthorized drug) is illegal under the Food and Drugs Act.

A 2005 National Review of Medicine article explains some of the back-story: "In 2001, the only Canadian trial of mifepristone ... was suspended after the death of a woman from toxic shock brought on by a bacterial infection related to her abortion." The story of that young woman's death is told here. Canadians for Choice, a pro-choice group, acknowledges: "Unfortunately, RU-486 is not legal in Canada. Many opponents raised concerns about its safety because of the possibility to cause Clostridium sordellii infections and septic shock."

Rep. Peppin's comment about Canada is justifiable for the simple reason that RU486 is illegal there—it is not permitted under the law.

China is known for very liberal abortion policies and a coercive one-child law that often leads to sex-selection abortion and infanticide, in which female babies are killed simply because they are female. In 2001, China outlawed all pharmaceutical sales of RU486. This fact is the basis for Rep. Peppin's remark, yet it is never mentioned by MPR.

The State Drug Administration, charged with the oversight of drugs in China, explained the decision: "In order to guarantee patients' safety and protect their health, it is decided that no matter whether patients have a doctor's prescription or not, retail drug stores are forbidden to sell mifepristone tablets." This was reported under the headline "China Bans RU 486 Abortion Drug" in the Oct. 9, 2001, Beijing Morning Post. The story cited the fact that hospitals were left treating RU486 complications as a reason for the new policy. Admittedly, the ban only applied to drug stores.

It is clear that the health dangers of RU486 have not gone unnoticed by other countries, and they shouldn't be ignored in Minnesota, either. The risks inherent in RU486 are exacerbated when a physician is not physically present. Rep. Peppin's legislation is a reasonable attempt to safeguard the health of women from a risky practice introduced only recently by the state's leading performer and promoter of abortion, Planned Parenthood.