(National Review) This month’s decision by the Biden administration’s FDA to allow pharmacies to dispense chemical-abortion drugs has received a considerable amount of attention. Many mainstream media outlets have applauded this policy change largely because it makes chemical abortions more accessible. However, there has been precious little coverage of how knowledgeable pharmacists are about the chemical-abortion-pill regimen, which could affect the health of countless women.
Indeed, a 2021 article in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found large gaps in the knowledge of pharmacists about chemical abortions. This article reports on the results of a recent FDA-approved study on the feasibility of having pharmacists dispense chemical-abortion pills. In the beginning of the study, pharmacists took a baseline survey that included questions about medication abortion. The pharmacists were trained in chemical abortions and in dispensing mifepristone. After the training, the pharmacists dispensed chemical-abortion pills and briefly counseled patients. At the study’s conclusion, approximately one year later, pharmacists took a follow-up survey.
The results of the baseline study indicate that most pharmacists were unfamiliar with the chemical-abortion regimen and the risks it entails. Considerably fewer than half knew about the dosage and administration of chemical-abortion drugs. Similarly, fewer than half knew about the FDA’s gestational-age limit for chemical abortions. Furthermore, many were unaware of common adverse effects related to chemical abortions, including vomiting, cramping, and bleeding.
After receiving training and acquiring experience in dispensing chemical-abortion pills, knowledge of medication abortion did improve among pharmacists. However, the follow-up survey still revealed some critical gaps in the pharmacists’ knowledge. For instance, only 53 percent of pharmacists knew of the risks of taking mifepristone. Only 42 percent were aware of the FDA’s gestational-age limit for chemical abortions. Similarly, only 30 percent were aware that fever and chills are common adverse effects of chemical abortions. Finally, barely more than half of the pharmacists (53 percent) were aware of minor-consent laws regarding abortion.
In fairness, the study has some important methodological weaknesses. Participating pharmacists were from six pharmacies, all of which were located in either California or Washington State. As such, all of the pharmacists in the study resided in states sympathetic to legalized abortion. More importantly, a relatively small number of pharmacists — 56 — took part in the study and participated in the training. Additionally, only 47 completed the baseline study and only 43 completed the follow-up survey. Still, the lack of knowledge about important aspects of the chemical-abortion-pill regimen — even after the training and experience — is deeply concerning.
In the coming weeks, pro-lifers will doubtlessly pursue a variety of strategies to prevent pharmacies from dispensing chemical-abortion pills. There will likely be boycotts and protests. They will also likely counter this new FDA policy through a range of educational and legislative efforts. The lack of knowledge that many pharmacists have about chemical-abortion drugs should be a key talking point for pro-lifers. A robust body of research shows that chemical-abortion pills have a significantly higher complication rates than surgical abortions. Allowing pharmacists with little training to dispense chemical-abortion pills will not only be fatal to unborn children, but also harmful to the health of countless women.
Editor’s Note: This article was published at National Review and is reprinted here with permission.