ACLU Calls Out Junk Science at the Heart of the Supreme Court Medication Abortion Case
WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court today in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a case that could have serious effects on people’s ability to access abortion and miscarriage care nationwide. The brief — joined by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project — details how, in overriding FDA’s scientific judgment and the medical consensus about mifepristone’s safety, the Texas federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals relied heavily on unreliable testimony and flawed research from a handful of witnesses who oppose abortion in all circumstances and want to see it banned nationwide. These so-called experts regularly testify in defense of abortion restrictions in cases brought by the ACLU and partners, and both they and the studies on which they rely have routinely been found by other courts to lack any credibility.
Statement from Julia Kaye, senior staff attorney and amicus brief author, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:
“This is a case in which a group of extremists who want to see abortion banned nationwide are using junk science to try to achieve that goal — and, so far, finding receptive ears from the judges they hand-selected to hear their case. We can all agree that access to safe and effective FDA-approved drugs like mifepristone should be based on rigorous scientific research and the expert medical consensus. But the Texas courts were apparently so eager to reinstate barriers to mifepristone that they swallowed hook, line, and sinker the debunked claims and laughably flawed research put forward by a bunch of discredited anti-abortion zealots. It is chilling to think that courts could strip away access to safe FDA-approved medications relied on by millions based on the say-so of a few unqualified ideologues, yet that is exactly the world we will be living in unless the Supreme Court makes this right.”
The ACLU’s amicus brief thoroughly demonstrates how the courts below relied on discredited experts and transparently flawed and biased research, including:
- Dr. Ingrid Skop — cited 17 times by the Fifth Circuit — whose opinions on abortion safety were discounted by a Florida court in 2022 as “inaccurate and overstated.” Dr. Skop admitted in 2020 that she is “not a really good researcher,” and that she routinely “lift[s]” language from other authors without attribution, claiming she “didn’t realize that, you know, using wording from a paper that you agreed with qualified as plagiarism.” Her research on medication abortion was published by an advocacy group known for conspiracy theories, like that former President Barack Obama hypnotized listeners with his speeches.
- Dr. Donna Harrison — cited nine times by the Fifth Circuit— who is the president of the lead anti-abortion plaintiff, and whose testimony on abortion has been discredited by multiple courts as “inaccurate and incomplete,” “generally at odds with solid medical evidence,” “exaggerated or distorted,” and “shaped primarily by the position she is advocating at the moment.”
- Dr. George Delgado, who has been discredited by multiple courts for advancing “an unproven” “theory” of so-called abortion pill reversal that leading medical authorities like ACOG reject as “not based on science,” for the “numerous flaws” in his research, and for providing no “supporting data for his conclusions.”
- Mr. Mario Dickerson, whom the Fifth Circuit relied on for scientific conclusions contrary to FDA’s expert assessment and the medical consensus, but who is not a doctor at all — his only advanced education is in theological studies.
- Dr. Priscilla Coleman’s widely criticized study asserting that abortion causes mental health harms, which the Texas district court credited even though leading national and global professional associations have debunked that claim based on exhaustive scientific reviews, and despite the fact that Dr. Coleman’s work in this area has been retracted and disavowed by the journals that once published it.
- Research by Dr. David Reardon, who has been criticized even by his long-time collaborator Dr. Coleman as “too political” and “not good at statistics,” and whose study was cited by the district court as solid evidence for a vague anti-abortion hypothesis that co-author Dr. Coleman admitted was, in fact, “not based on the [study’s] actual findings.”
- Sweeping “statistics” about the purported harms of abortion drawn from a qualitative study of 98 anonymous online blog posts from a website called “Abortion Changes You,” which even the study authors felt constrained to admit is not representative of the population that has a medication abortion.
A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.
A copy of the sources for the amicus brief can be found here.
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