February 20, 2024

Key papers which opposed abortion pill retracted

Academia is not all tea and crumpets in the senior common room. Sometimes it’s a blood sport, with victors and victims, winners and losers. Raising your head above the parapets by attacking abortion in a scientific journal is a sure-fire way to attract heightened scrutiny – and possibly a retraction.

Sage Publications has just retracted three articles by pro-life researchers published in the journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. Although there were some concerns about how data was presented, the main issue seems to have been a potential conflict of interest. The retraction notice said:

A reader contacted the journal with concerns about the 2021 article as to whether presentation of the data in Figures 2 and 3 is misleading, whether there are defects in the selection of the cohort data, and whether the authors’ affiliations with pro-life advocacy organizations, including Charlotte Lozier Institute, present conflicts of interest that the authors should have disclosed as such in the article.

What made these articles a bullseye for criticism was that they had been cited by US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in a judgement about the abortion drug mifepristone. The articles claimed to prove that the drug was probably dangerous. Kacsmaryk accepted this, together with other evidence, and used it to suspend the FDA’s approval of mifepristone (which was later reversed).

The authors were indignant. According to The Daily Wire:

Dr James Studnicki, a listed author on all three studies in question, told The Daily Wire that the retractions were “completely unjustified” and that the retractions were meant to discredit scientific research that challenged the pro-abortion bias engrained in academia …

“I think Dobbs really accelerated this, I think there’s a sense of desperation among those in the abortion industry,” he told The Daily Wire ahead of the retraction, which was expected. “They’ve always had the literature to themselves. All of the major health associations are pro-abortion, most of the journals are pro-abortion, all the academic departments in the universities are pro-abortion.” 

This is hardly the first time that peer-reviewed articles questioning aspects of legalised abortion have been “cancelled” through the formal practice of retraction. Priscilla Coleman’s article, “The Turnaway Study: A Case of Self-Correction in Science Upended by Political Motivation and Unvetted Findings,” was published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2022. Citing “undisclosed competing interests”, the journal issued a retraction later in the year. Coleman protested vigorously, to no avail.

It’s not all one-way traffic, though. In 2015, Elard Koch, of the MELISA Institute, in Concepción, Chile, and colleagues published a study in BMJ Open which found that the maternal mortality rate in Mexico City had risen when it legalised abortion. In 2016, an article was published in the journal Contraception rubbishing Koch’s research in what he called “an accusatory or ad hominem tone”. Koch studied the article and found that it had completely misinterpreted the data. He demanded that the article be retracted and eventually it was.