How to Spot Abortion-Related Misinformation

In the case of the Polish research into mifepristone and misoprostol detection, it’s hard to see how people who need abortions would benefit from such a test. Even a person who’s worried about the contents of pills they ordered off the internet—the use case that the study repeatedly references—would be better served by testing the pills before, not after, they’ve been taken. And tests that confirm that pills are legitimately mifepristone and misoprostol already exist.

Exercise Science Literacy

Scientific papers can be confusing and intimidating to read, but there are a couple of simple strategies you can use to assess if a claim is backed up by good research. If a study only involves “a handful of people, it’s not real, especially about clinical outcomes,” says Andréa Becker, a postdoctoral researcher at ANSIRH, a research program based at the University of California, San Francisco, noting that a solid study will involve several hundred people. Longitudinal studies, which follow their subjects over a period of several years, are even more likely to produce quality results.

Becker cites ANSIRH’s Turnaway Study, which followed nearly 1,000 women over a period of five years, as an example of rigorous abortion-related research. In contrast, the 2012 study that claimed to prove that abortion pill reversal was possible involved only six women. And the Polish studies cited by The New York Times involved an even smaller group: The mifepristone detection study involved a single woman, while the misoprostol detection study involved one and one “male human fetus” that was found “on the sidewalk next to the garbage container” three days before being examined by the research team.

Becker also suggests checking a paper’s citations and funding. If researchers are routinely citing studies from the 1990s or earlier, “that’s really outdated,” she says. More recent citations are likely to suggest more robust findings. And if the listed funders seem like they might have an anti-abortion agenda (like, for instance, the notoriously anti-abortion Polish government), that’s a sign that you might want to proceed with caution.

Be on the Lookout for Anti-Abortion Rhetoric

Unbiased research about abortion will approach the topic with a neutral tone, treating it as the common medical procedure that it is. If the source you’re looking at leans heavily on language about how scary or risky abortion is, or about how many people regret having had an abortion, chances are good that you’re about to be fed some abortion disinformation.

In theory, a mifepristone/misoprostol test could exist, says Raegan McDonald-Mosley, CEO of Power to Decide, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to advance sexual and reproductive well-being for all. But the studies cited in the Times contain language that gives her pause. “It says some really inflammatory stuff in the article, like, ‘One of the most hazardous methods of terminating a pregnancy is the use of abortion pills.’ That in and of itself reads like literature from a crisis pregnancy center. So already I’m on high alert that the ‘science’ behind this is biased.”

See What Medical Experts Say

If you’re confused about an abortion-related claim, the best place to turn is your local abortion organization, who will be happy to educate you about the facts about abortion. Bracey Sherman also recommends checking out what leaders in the abortion movement are saying online about inflammatory new studies making wild claims about abortion. “If we’re not sounding the alarm on it, it might be because it’s not a real thing,” she says. Power to Decide’s Abortion Finder is also a great source of information—especially when you’re looking to confirm that a clinic is a verified abortion provider and not an anti-abortion organization pretending to be a clinic.

And when in doubt, there’s always ACOG’s toolkit devoted to combating abortion myths.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Loud

One of the most pernicious effects of abortion misinformation is the way it contributes to stigma and makes people more terrified to talk about abortion. If we want to fight anti-abortion disinformation campaigns, we can’t let abortion shame take over the conversation. We have to loudly, proudly talk about abortion—and remind people that it’s a life-saving medical procedure that everyone deserves access to.

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