An academic journal published this week retracted two studies which were cited by a federal judge in Texas last year when he ruled that mifepristone, an abortion pill, should be taken off the market.
Most of the study authors are doctors and researchers affiliated with anti-abortion groups, and their reports suggest that abortion drugs cause dangerous complications, contradicting widespread evidence that abortion pills are safe.
The lawsuit in which the studies were cited will be heard by the Supreme Court in March. The High Court’s decision could have wider 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 evaluate the studies, published in 2021 and 2022 in the journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology, after a reader raised concerns.
Sage said the two experts had “identified fundamental problems in the study design and methodology, unwarranted or incorrect factual assumptions, clerical errors in the authors’ analysis of the data, and misleading presentations of the data that , in their opinion, demonstrate a lack of scientific data.” rigor and invalidate the authors’ conclusions in whole or in part.
The publisher also retracted a third study by several of the same authors and published in 2019 in the same journal, which was not included in the mifepristone lawsuit.
Sage said that when it began reviewing the 2021 study, it confirmed that most of the authors had indicated affiliations with “pro-life organizations” but had “stated that they had no conflict of interest when they submitted the article for publication or in the article itself. »
Sage said she 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 that the studies were flawed, as did the lead author, James Studnicki, vice president and director of data analysis at the institute.
“Sage is targeting us,” said Dr. Studnicki, who has a doctorate in science and a master’s degree in public health. a video defending the team’s work.
Noting that the studies have been used in legal actions, he said: “We have become visible, people are quoting us, and that is why we are dangerous, and that is 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 perpetrators will take appropriate legal action,” but he did not specify what that would be.
The lawsuit seeking to ban mifepristone — the first pill in the two-drug abortion regimen — was brought against the Food and Drug Administration by a consortium of anti-abortion groups and doctors. In its fight against 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 have no legal standing to sue because that they do not perform abortions and have not suffered any harm. by the availability of mifepristone.
In his opinion last April, Justice Matthew J. Kacsmaryk cited the 2021 study to support his conclusion that the plaintiffs had the legal capacity to sue. This study reported a higher rate of emergency room visits after medical abortion than after procedural abortion. Quoting him, Judge Kacsmaryk wrote that the plaintiffs “have standing because they allege that the adverse effects of chemical abortifacient drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place ‘tremendous pressure and stress’ on doctors if they fail.” emergency and complications.
In another section of his decision, Justice Kacsmaryk cited the 2022 study, writing that “Plaintiffs allege “numerous intense 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 overturned parts of it but said significant restrictions should be placed on mifepristone to prevent it from being sent by mail 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 retractions may simply “reinforce a position they were already willing to take.”
For example, she said, there were already strong arguments that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing, so if a judge was “willing to ignore all these other things, he might be willing to also ignore retractions,” she said. For judges already “bothered by various other standing issues, you were probably going to say that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing as it stands.”
Likewise, she added, some judges would have already concluded that the vast majority of studies demonstrate that mifepristone is safe, so if a judge were “prepared to say that, despite the weight of the evidence, mifepristone is really dangerous, you could easily do it.” it starts again if you lose a few studies.