Magazine retracts studies cited in federal court ruling against abortion pill

An editor of an academic journal this week. retracted two studies that were cited by a federal judge in Texas last year when he ruled that the abortion pill mifepristone should be taken off the market.

Most of the studies’ authors are doctors and researchers affiliated with anti-abortion groups, and their reports suggested that medical abortion causes 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 ruling could have important implications for access to medical abortion, now the most common method of terminating pregnancy.

The publisher, Sage Journals, said it had 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 both experts had “identified fundamental problems with the study design and methodology, unjustified or incorrect factual assumptions, material errors in the authors’ analysis of the data, and misleading presentations of the data that, in their opinions, demonstrate a lack of scientific knowledge. rigor and totally or partially invalidate the authors’ conclusions.”

The publisher also retracted a third study by many of the same authors published in 2019 in the same journal and which was not included in the mifepristone lawsuit.

Sage said that when he began examining the 2021 study, he confirmed that most of the authors had listed affiliations with “pro-life advocacy organizations” but had “declared that they had no conflicts of interest when they submitted the article for publication or in the article.” per se”.

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 lead author James Studnicki, vice president and director of data analysis at the institute.

“Sage is targeting us,” he said in a video defending the team’s work.

Noting that the studies had been used in legal actions, he said: “We have become visible, people cite 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 has everything to do with political assassination.”

In a statement, Dr. Studnicki said, “The authors will take appropriate legal action,” but did not specify what those 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 have no legal standing to sue because they are not abortion providers and They have not been harmed. due to the availability of mifepristone.

In his opinion last April, Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk cited the study 2021 to support its conclusion that the plaintiffs had legal standing to sue. That study reported a higher rate of emergency room visits after medication abortions than after procedural abortions. Citing this, Judge Kacsmaryk wrote that the plaintiffs “have standing because they allege that adverse events from chemical abortive drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place ‘enormous pressure and stress’ on physicians during emergencies and complications.”

In another section of his ruling, Judge Kacsmaryk cited the 2022 study, writing that “Plaintiffs allege ‘many severe side effects’ and ‘significant complications requiring medical attention’ as a result of Defendants’ actions.”

Judge Kacsmaryk’s opinion was criticized by many legal experts, and an appeals court overturned parts of it, but he said significant restrictions should be placed on mifepristone that would prevent it from being mailed or prescribed via 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 could simply “reinforce a position they were already willing to take.”

For example, he said, there were already strong arguments that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing, so if a judge was “willing to overlook all that other stuff, you might be willing to overlook the retractions, too.” , said. For judges who were already “bothered by other issues related to standing, they would likely be told that the plaintiffs did not have standing as it stood.”

Similarly, he said, some judges would have already concluded that the vast majority of studies show that mifepristone is safe, so if a judge were “prepared to say that, despite the weight of the evidence, mifepristone is really dangerous, I could easily do it.” again if you miss a couple of studies.”