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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, September 26, 2023

When politics override science: Another attack on abortion access

On April 7, another step was taken to restrict abortion access. Matthew Kacsmaryk, a federal judge in Texas, put the Food and Drug Administration’s 20-year approval of a commonly used abortion pill, mifepristone, on hold

The discussions started when a coalition of anti-abortion groups called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine filed a lawsuit against the FDA last year for disregarding the evidence suggesting that chemical abortion drugs “cause more complications than surgical abortions,” according to the website of Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion legal advocacy group. The case challenged the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a drug that is taken with misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy. Although AHM claimed that the FDA didn’t adequately review the safety risks of the medication, the FDA approved the medication in September 2000 and had fewer restrictions on the pill over the past decades due to research showing it is safer than drugs like penicillin or Viagra.

If the federal government’s appeal to this ruling is unsuccessful, many abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, Aid Access and Abortion on Demand will have to switch to a misoprostol-only protocol. This particularly concerns women’s health, as research has shown that the single-pill regimen has additional side effects. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of all abortions in the United States are done through medication, so the verdict significantly affects the future of a fundamental women’s right and access to a safe abortion. 

President Joe Biden said that the decision may have nationwide far-reaching effects and emphasized the importance of the FDA remaining safe from political and ideological attacks. Biden also described the ruling as “the next big step toward the national ban on abortion that Republican elected officials have vowed to make law in America.” The FDA and the Department of Justice also disputed the lawsuit and reaffirmed their decision on the approval of mifepristone. The rulings have also sparked concern among the biopharmaceutical industry, whose leaders worry that the Texas decision undermines the FDA’s authority and sets a precedent that could allow politics to override science. To condemn the ruling to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, more than 500 heads of reputable biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms, including the CEO of Pfizer, signed a letter. In the letter, they called for a reversal of the ruling and criticized how the decision diminishes the FDA’s authority over drug approvals and how it ignores “decades of scientific evidence and legal precedent.” 

Everyone should be able to obtain medical care where decisions are based on science, not politics. This is a dangerous affront to healthcare as it undermines the importance of making policies based on evidence-based research and commitment toward upholding individual autonomy and human rights. 

Although the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the federal judge’s ruling, the final decision will drastically impact access to abortion and determine whether Americans will be one step closer to 1972, when women didn’t have reproductive freedom. Recent attempts to restrict women’s access to abortion have accelerated, culminating in the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade; this political interference in women’s reproductive rights is a growing concern. When politicians intervene in reproductive choices, they are essentially taking away individual autonomy. These kinds of political impositions on abortion also disproportionately affect marginalized groups such as low-income women, women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals as they face significant barriers to healthcare access and even more difficulties in reproductive healthcare. 

It is a sad irony that the decision-makers who claim to protect the unborn seem to have little regard for the mental and physical well-being of women. The attempts to impose personal beliefs on science and restrict access to safe abortions put women’s lives at risk and deny them the autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies. Those who claim to be pro-life should be equally committed to ensuring that women have access to comprehensive health care, including mental health services, contraceptive methods and prenatal care. It is hypocritical to claim to value life while ignoring the needs of women and disregarding the social and economic factors that contribute to unintended or unwanted pregnancies. 

The reality is that reproductive rights are fundamental human rights, and women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives. Access to safe and legal abortion is essential for the health and well-being of women, and any attempts to restrict or prohibit it are a violation of these rights. Let us stand up for the rights of women, free from political interference and oppressive policies that disregard science.