Published 3:53 PM EDT Sep 3, 2020
Sen. Ted Cruz came under fire from abortion-rights proponents after saying Wednesday on social media that pregnancy is not a “life-threatening illness” when the U.S. has the highest maternal death rate out of the world’s developed nations.
Cruz made the comment in a tweet promoting a letter signed by himself and other Republican senators calling on the Food and Drug Administration to declare Mifeprex, also known as the “abortion pill,” an “imminent hazard to the public health” and removed from the market.
“Pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease,” Cruz said. “Make no mistake, Mifeprex is a dangerous pill. That’s why 20 of my Republican colleagues and I are urging @US_FDA to classify it as such.”
Deadly deliveries: Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.
“No, it’s not an illness, but it is life-threatening,” reproductive and public health expert Dr. Beverly Winikoff told USA TODAY in response to Cruz’s remark. “The odds of dying in pregnancy are higher than dying from this drug. So in fact, if you wanted to make a risk calculation, it’s actually safer to have a medical abortion, than it is to have a full-term pregnancy. We have data on that.”
In their letter, the 20 GOP senators said “this deadly pill should never have been approved” and objected to it being approved through “an accelerated approval process normally reserved for high-risk drugs that address life-threatening illnesses like AIDS.”
“As you are surely aware, pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease,” the letter said. “Nevertheless, this pill that is specifically designed and intended to kill preborn children was raced to the market, with devastating consequences.”
Mifeprex, a brand name for the drug mifepristone, has been one of the FDA’s most restricted drugs for decades, according to a recent Newsy investigation. One of two drugs used to perform a medication abortion, the FDA approved its use in 2000 under tight regulation.
Winikoff researched Mifeprex and presented data to the FDA for the Population Council in the late 1990s when the group sought to win approval for the drug in the U.S.
She disputed the assertion that the pill was rushed to the market, calling it “a misrepresentation” and “fictional history.” She said Mifeprex actually “took longer than usual” to get approval after a highly contentious and politicized process that took several years.
Winikoff said the drug was approved under the FDA’s “subpart H,” or Accelerated Approval of New Drugs for Serious or Life-Threatening Illnesses. According to Winikoff, it was approved under subpart H because that allowed for further testing an easy recall from the market if problems arose.
“It wasn’t something that was designed to make it go faster to the market. It was designed to give the FDA cover, saying that if anything goes wrong we’re studying it,” Winikoff said. “The FDA was super cautious about this. They held more hearings than usual. They took a longer time than usual. they imposed restrictions that are very uncommon for a drug with a track record as safe as this one.”
“The pro-abortion media loves to distort pro-lifers’ words,” Cruz said in response to news media reports on his wording. “We didn’t say pregnancy was ‘not life threatening.’ We said ‘pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness’ that justifies the use of a pill that is known to kill women in addition to unborn babies.
“You might disagree with our argument, but don’t just make things up. Read what we actually said for yourself,” Cruz wrote in another tweet linking to a National Review article on the 20 senators’ letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.
A USA TODAY Network investigation found about 50,000 U.S. women are severely harmed and about 700 die because of complications related to childbirth every year. The U.S. maternal mortality rate was more than double that of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Japan. And Black women in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to die during childbirth, according to data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
About half of the deaths in the U.S. are preventable, the USA TODAY investigation found.
Though Mifeprex has a better safety record than penicillin and Viagra, the abortion pill is only available at a pharmacy with a prescription because the FDA already restricts more than opioids such as fentanyl.
Investigation: Abortion pill restricted by FDA for decades has better safety record than penicillin and Viagra
An FDA database showed that 24 out of 3.7 million women in the U.S. who had a medication abortion died between September 28, 2000, and December 31, 2018.
Some abortion opponents, such as Dr. Donna Harrison, the executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say the FDA number underestimates the actual number of women who suffered complications from the drug.
“The problem is that it is a minimal number, so we have no way in this country of tracking the complications from Mifeprex abortions,” Harrison told Newsy.
But a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, an independent organization, found “infection, hospitalizations and hemorrhage requiring transfusions occur in fewer than 1 percent of patients” who had medication abortions.
Cruz’s tweet about the letter received push back from many abortion-rights proponents on social media.
“Ted Cruz has never been pregnant and clearly knows nothing about maternal mortality rates in the US or in Texas,” tweeted Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “People die in childbirth at an unconscionable rate, especially women of color. Not from medication abortion. Sadly, knowledge is not a prerequisite for power.”
“This is a dangerous, misogynistic lie,” said Shannon Freshour, a Democratic candidate in Ohio for a U.S. House seat. “Pregnancy can, and often is, a life-threatening or even life-ending medical condition, especially among black mothers and women of color. Why are you politicizing and lying about women’s lives to control and kill us? Have you no morality?”
Study: US abortion rate is at its lowest, but restrictive laws aren’t the likely cause
Dr. Eugine Gu, an advocate for progressive causes who successfully sued Donald Trump for blocking him on Twitter, said Cruz’s “chauvinistic attitude” contributes to the U.S. have a high rate of maternal mortality.
“We doubled our maternal mortality rate from the 1980s to today. Pregnancy is not an illness, but it is life threatening in America,” Gu said on Twitter. “And due to rampant racism in healthcare and the prejudice of many doctors, the maternal mortality for black women is 4 times higher than for white women.”
Contributing: John Kelly, Christopher Schnaars and Alison Young, USA TODAY; Angela Hill and Karen Rodriguez, Newsy