An academic journal publisher this week retracted two studies cited by a federal judge in Texas last year when he ruled that the abortion pill mifepristone should be pulled from the market.
Most of the study’s authors are doctors and researchers associated with anti-abortion groups, and their reports indicate that medical abortion causes dangerous complications, contrary to widespread evidence that abortion pills are safe.
The lawsuit in which the studies were referred to will be heard by the Supreme Court in March. The high court’s ruling could have major implications for access to medical abortion, which is now the most common method of terminating a pregnancy.
The publisher, Sage Journals, said it asked two independent experts to review the studies, published in 2021 and 2022 in the journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology, after a reader raised concerns.
Sage said both experts had “identified fundamental problems with the study’s design and methodology, unwarranted or wrongly documented assumptions, significant errors in the authors’ analysis of the data, and misleading presentations of the data that, in their opinion, demonstrate lacks scientific rigor and invalidates the authors’ conclusions in whole or in part.”
The publisher also retracted a third study by many of the same authors published in 2019 in the same journal, which was not included in the mifepristone lawsuit.
Sage said that when she began reviewing the 2021 study, she confirmed that most of the authors had listed affiliations with “pro-life organizations” but “declared that they had no conflict of interest when submitting the article for publication or in the article itself .”
Sage said he also learned that one of the reviewers who evaluated the article for publication was affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
The institute denied the studies were flawed, as did the lead author, James Studnicki, who is vice president and director of data analysis at the institute.
“Sage is targeting us,” said Dr. Studnicki, who has a doctorate of science and a master’s degree in public health, in a video defending the team’s work.
Noting that the studies were used in legal action, he said: “We’ve become visible, people are quoting us and that’s why we’re dangerous and that’s why they want to cancel our work. What happened to us has little or nothing to do with real science and everything to do with political assassination.”
In a statement, Dr. Studnicki said, “The authors will take appropriate legal action,” but did not specify what that would be.
The lawsuit seeking to ban mifepristone — the first pill in the two-drug abortion regimen — was filed against the Food and Drug Administration by a consortium of anti-abortion groups and doctors. In fighting the lawsuit, the federal government defended its approval and regulation of mifepristone, provided years of evidence that the pill is safe and effective, and argued that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they are not abortion providers and have not suffered damage. by the availability of mifepristone.
In his opinion last April, Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk cited the 2021 study to support his conclusion that the plaintiffs had standing to sue. This study reported a higher rate of emergency room visits after medication abortions than after procedural abortions. Referring to this, Judge Kacsmaryk wrote that the plaintiffs “have standing because they allege that adverse events from chemical abortion drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place “tremendous pressure and stress” on physicians during emergencies and complications.” .
In another part of his ruling, Judge Kacsmaryk cited the 2022 study, writing that “plaintiffs allege ‘numerous severe side effects’ and ‘significant complications requiring medical attention’ resulting from defendants’ actions.”
Judge Kacsmaryk’s opinion was criticized by many legal experts and an appeals court struck down parts of it, but he said significant restrictions should be placed on mifepristone that would prevent it from being mailed or prescribed by telemedicine.
Legal experts said it was unclear whether Sage’s action would affect the Supreme Court’s decision. Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, said the recalls may simply “reinforce a position they were already prepared to take.”
For example, he said, there were already strong arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing, so if a judge was “willing to overlook all these other things, you might be willing to overlook the withdrawals as well,” he said. To the judges who are already “bothered by various other standing problems, you were probably going to say that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing as it was.”
Likewise, he said, some judges would have already concluded that the vast majority of studies show that mifepristone is safe, so if a judge was “prepared to say that, despite the weight of the evidence, mifepristone is really dangerous, he would you could easily do that. and again if you miss a few studies.”