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National Academies’ Report Finds, Once Again, That Abortion Is Safe

Doctor with arms folded looking defiant
Doctor with arms folded looking defiant
Julia Kaye,
Senior Staff Attorney, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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March 21, 2018

On Monday, the state of Mississippi banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It is the most extreme abortion ban in the country today, despite stiff competition. Fortunately, this baldly unconstitutional law was almost immediately blocked in court, but it’s worth reflecting on the faulty science — that is, the lies — underlying this latest outrage.

Mississippi lawmakers enacted this draconian ban in part based on what they claim are the “significant physical and psychological risks” that abortion poses to patients. That’s nonsense, according to an independent, comprehensive review of the science on abortion released just last week.

Based on a rigorous analysis of the full body of evidence on abortion, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirm what many reproductive health, rights, and justices advocates have been saying for decades: Abortion care in the United States is highly safe and effective, and the procedure can be safely provided in a variety of healthcare settings by a range of trained healthcare professionals.

The new study bolsters the ACLU’s position in numerous federal and state lawsuits challenging medically unjustified restrictions on abortion. These include challenges to targeted regulations of abortion providers, or “TRAP” laws; mandatory abortion delay laws; biased counseling requirements; and the Food and Drug Administration’s needless restrictions on the abortion pill.

According to the National Academies’ report, abortion care in the United States is extremely safe and rarely involves serious complications. Medication abortion has a particularly low complication rate, similar to other common prescription and over-the-counter medications. The study also confirmed that abortion can be offered safely in an office setting, without special equipment or arrangements, and that advanced practice clinicians — such as nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and physician assistants — can provide medication and aspiration abortion safely and effectively.

In particular, the study gives strong support to recent lawsuits in Maine, Montana, and Hawaii. Together with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Maine, we’re challenging a Maine law that blocks qualified advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, from providing abortions, despite their rigorous post-graduate training and extensive clinical experience. The law severely restricts access to abortion care in the rural and medically underserved state, forcing some patients to travel more than six hours for care that they could safely get from an experienced APRN in their own community. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Montana are challenging a similar law in Montana.

A third case filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on behalf of a Hawaii doctor and several professional healthcare associations challenges federal restrictions on where a patient can fill a prescription for the abortion pill. As the National Academies’ report emphasizes, the abortion pill is a safe and effective method of ending an early pregnancy. But the FDA’s restrictions on this medication often add insurmountable hurdles to a patient’s ability to actually receive this care — for no medical reason.

Leading medical authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have concluded that the restrictions we’re challenging in all three of these cases are medically unfounded. The National Academies’ study reinforces those conclusions.

The report also finds that medically unjustified restrictions on abortion can actually harm patients’ health and well-being. They interfere with the ability of healthcare providers to provide care in accordance with their patients’ needs and their own medical judgment. They can delay patients’ care, which increases costs and the potential for complications. Some restrictions prevent qualified clinicians from providing abortion care at all, which forces patients seeking to end a pregnancy to travel further — imposing additional delays.

And, according to the report, more than 15 states force clinicians to provide medically inaccurate information to patients, like that abortion increases the risk of depression or breast cancer. Such claims, the report confirms, are false.

The Supreme Court has held that states cannot burden patient access to abortion without a valid health justification. Laws restricting qualified clinicians from providing abortion care or limiting where patients can fill a prescription for the abortion pill simply cannot survive that constitutional test. They do nothing to protect patients’ health, only serving to push abortion care out of reach. And the notion that a law banning a patient from ending her pregnancy after 15 weeks — and forcing her to remain pregnant and give birth against her will — is based on science would be laughable if it weren’t so upsetting.

We look forward to the day when lawmakers stop trampling on people’s rights and bodies in the name of false science. Until then, we’ll continue to reveal these lies for what they are in court.

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