Journal publisher retracts abortion pill studies cited by Texas judge

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Two studies cited by plaintiffs and a federal judge in Texas that purported to show the harms of the common abortion pill mifepristone have been retracted by the publisher of the scientific journal they first appeared in.

Sage Publications said it retracted three studies about mifepristone, two of which were cited heavily by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk last year when he sided with a group of anti-abortion physicians and revoked the Food and Drug Administration’s two decade-old approval of the pill. 

A federal appeals court later overturned some of Kacsmaryk’s ruling, and the Biden administration is appealing the case to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 26. 

In a retraction statement, Sage said the authors of the articles had undeclared conflicts of interest and used unreliable methodologies to misrepresent their conclusions.  

“Following Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines, we made this decision with the journal’s editor because of undeclared conflicts of interest and after expert reviewers found that the studies demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors’ conclusions,” Sage said in the statement. 

The studies were published in the journal “Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology,” and the lead author for each was James Studnicki, a vice president at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is the research arm of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the country’s leading anti-abortion groups.  

Sage said Studnicki and the other authors declared they had no conflicts of interest when they submitted the article for publication. 

After a reader contacted the publisher with concerns about the studies, Sage said two subject matter experts undertook an independent post-publication peer review of the three articles. 

The experts found “fundamental problems” that “invalidate the authors’ conclusions in whole or in part,” Sage said. In another instance, one of the articles was peer reviewed prior to publication by someone who was also affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

In one study, Studnicki claimed that abortions using mifepristone were followed by a high rate of emergency room visits compared to surgical abortions. The study examined Medicaid patients’ visits to the emergency room within 30 days of having an abortion. 

Kacsmaryk cited that study when he found that a group of anti-abortion providers had standing to sue over mifepristone’s approval, because he said it proves they would be harmed by having to treat patients who may suffer complications after taking mifepristone. 

Another study found that those complications are frequently misclassified as miscarriages. Kacsmaryk cited that study when he wrote that the true rate of complications from mifepristone is underreported. 

In a statement in response to the retractions, Studnicki and one of the other authors defended their work. They said their affiliation with anti-abortion groups was “fully known and identified to Sage” when the articles were submitted, and the company has “no justification for this decision to retract any of the three papers, much less all three.” 

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