Rutgers professor discusses abortion medication controversy

Leslie M. Kantor, professor and chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, said a ban on mifeprex (mifepristone), the medication used for non-surgical abortion, could pose a threat to individuals who are unwilling to go to a medical facility due to a fear of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Photo by Rutgers.eduLeslie M. Kantor, professor and chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, said a ban on mifeprex (mifepristone), the medication used for non-surgical abortion, could pose a threat to individuals who are unwilling to go to a medical facility due to a fear of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Several senators have called for the FDA to ban mifeprex (mifepristone), a medication used for non-surgical abortion, according to an article on USA Today. Leslie M. Kantor, professor and chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health, spoke on this issue and what banning this medication would mean for women during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Medication abortion is a safe medical procedure which is chosen by (approximately) 40 (percent) of women in the United States having abortions,” Kantor said.

Mifeprex, a medication involved in induced abortion, is often used in conjuction with another drug, known as misoprostol, in order to allow the process to happen effectively, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. Mifeprex can be used up to the ninth week of pregnancy to decrease levels of progesterone, a steroid hormone that stimulates the uterus to prepare for pregnancy, while misoprostol then works to clear out the uterus.

Along with this, an abortion through approved medication has had a success rate of 99.6 percent, a 0.4 percent risk of complications and an associated mortality rate of approximately .00064 percent, according to the website.

Up to 32 states have put up regulations stating that only licensed physicians have the ability to administer mifeprex, while 18 states regulate that a prescribing clinician must be physically present when medication is being taken by the patient, according to the Guttmacher Institute website.

When it comes to the pandemic, Kantor said attempting to ban this medication now shows how certain politicians have used COVID-19 to try and designate abortion as a non-essential service, despite multiple medical organizations affirming that it was essential and time-sensitive.

“During the COVID(-19) pandemic, medication abortion became an even more critical service for people who wanted to end their pregnancies as in person services were more limited in certain places or people had concerns about the possibility of getting infected with COVID(-19) by going to healthcare facilities,” Kantor said.  

Kantor said that with the spread of coronavirus and the possible risk of contracting the virus in areas such as clinics and hospitals, a ban on mifeprex could pose a real threat to those unwilling to take the chance of taking the drug in a healthcare facility. 

“This new attempt to limit access to abortion, which is a call by a sub-set of Republican senators to ban mifeprex, one of the medications used in medical abortions, is unlikely to succeed since this is a safe, approved medication,” Kantor said.

Although many Supreme Court officials seem to support stringent restriction on abortion-related health services, a recent Supreme Court case regarding the restriction of abortion services for women in Louisiana was turned down, Kantor said, according to an article by NJ Advance Media. She said this meant women in Louisiana would still be able to get the abortion procedure without extra setbacks.

“This attempt is another example of the constant chipping away at reproductive healthcare that is taking place nationally and in many states and, while courts have often blocked the most cumbersome restrictions, there is concern now that there are a majority of justices on the Supreme Court who are hostile to abortion rights, more of these restrictions could become encoded in law,” Kantor said.