Moisés ÁVILA / AFP
- A Texas judge on Friday issued a ruling overturning FDA approval of an abortion medication.
- Not only did it contain inaccurate language, but it cited many faulty studies, experts say.
- One study was written by an author whose work has been retracted by reputable journals.
In an unprecedented late Friday night ruling, a Texas federal judge sided with conservative, anti-abortion activists and sought to strip key abortion drug mifepristone of its FDA approval.
The 67-page document, written by right-wing Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, cited Wikipedia and is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods about the health effects of medical abortion, experts told Insider on Friday.
Kacsmaryk in the ruling cited multiple studies to back up claims that have been widely scrutinized or do not hold up to scientific consensus.
“When you’re issuing a ruling that’s going to impact people nationally, one would hope that that ruling would be evidence-based and that it would look at the body of evidence instead of cherry-picking studies that are really not in line with the scientific consensus on the topic,” M. Antonia Biggs, Ph.D. and social psychologist at ANSIRH previously told Insider.
For example, one study, with ties to anti-abortion nonprofit the Charlotte Lozier Institute, relies on the anonymous experiences of users on one particular website. The study uses 98 blog posts made over the course of 10 years. The authors note that the small sample group is one of the study’s limitations.
In comparison to the study, in 2020, 620,327 legally induced abortions were reported to CDC.
However, despite the limited scope of the study, the conservative Christian judge writes that “eighty-three percent of women report that chemical abortion ‘changed’ them — and seventy-seven percent of those women reported a negative change” — citing the study of 98 anonymous blog posts.
In another example, the judge cites an analysis that suggests a link between negative mental health outcomes and abortion written by abortion researcher Priscilla Coleman whose study has been denounced for years by abortion researchers and whose other work has previously been retracted by leading journals.
Julia Steinberg, an expert on mental health and abortion, told Reuters in 2012 that most women in the study who experienced mental health issues after having an abortion had also experienced them before the abortion. The Guttmacher Institute also debunked the study in a letter.
Another 2002 study, based on insurance records from Medi-Cal — California’s Medicaid program — claims low-income women who have abortions are more likely to commit suicide or die following an abortion.
A 2008 American Psychological Association task force noted that one of the 2002 insurance study’s multiple limitations was that it did not factor in that lower-income women, likely to face poor health outcomes already, may be more likely to choose abortion. The study also did not note whether or not the abortions had been done for health reasons or were elective abortions.
“What we do know is that abortion does not increase people’s risk of having depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, or substance use disorders, which is completely against many of his claims,” Biggs previously told Insider. “We also know that people do not come to regret their abortions.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, an advocacy group for public health professionals, told Insider that the ruling was “troubling” because it intended to undermine 20 years of clinical data on the safety of mifepristone and the FDA’s expertise in approving drugs.
“I think that this opens the door up for other people who are unhappy with a properly, scientifically-based determination to basically judge shop and find a judge who has a view, and in my view is not really following the law as they should,” Benjamin told Insider.
Benjamin said that the legal community has taken an “activist approach” when making determinations about judgments that will affect people’s health by “cherry-picking the science” and “utilizing very unique theories around the authority of agencies.”
“If the judge thought there was something administratively not done correctly, he could have identified that and the administration could have certainly corrected that. But that’s not what he did. He actually put patients at risk. He’s created a lot of confusion. And we know there’s a reason that the plaintiff sought that judge. Because of his views.”
Benjamin stressed to Insider that mifepristone is safe and wanted people to take Kacsmaryk’s background into consideration when reading the Friday ruling.
“The judge went to law school. The judge did not go to medical school. He has not got a medical license. He has not been vetted by anybody for his medical opinion. So he is really outside of his lane making, in essence, a medical judgment that was informed by really, really bad information.”
On Monday, lawyers for the Department of Justice filed an emergency motion asking the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to put Kacsmaryk’s ruling on hold during the appeals process, arguing that the case should have never moved forward.
The DOJ argued that plaintiffs in the lawsuit — a group of anti-abortion doctors — did not have standing because they neither use nor prescribe mifepristone.
Their argument, instead, relies on speculation — and absurdity: “that other doctors will prescribe mifepristone; that those doctors’ patients will experience exceedingly rare serious adverse events; that those patients will then seek out plaintiffs — doctors who oppose mifepristone and abortion — for care; and that they will do so in sufficient numbers to burden plaintiffs’ medical practice.”
Kacsmaryk’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Coleman and the other researchers did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.