The New York Times recently published a puff piece highlighting the life and work of “the Father of the Abortion Pill,” Dr. Étienne-Émile Baulieu. It appears that no hard questions were asked by the article’s author, Pam Belluck, although several were suggested by Baulieu’s remarks and certainly should have been posed.
A DUBIOUS MENTOR
For example, Belluck describes Gregory Pincus, co-inventor of the birth control pill, as one of Baulieu’s mentors. But Pincus is hardly worthy of imitation. He was known for experimenting on the mentally ill; it is questionable whether these women could even give consent. Of these experiments, the Harvard Crimson noted:
In 1954, under the guise of learning about the [birth control] pill’s “possible tranquilizing effect,” Pincus launched a new trial. He recruited 16 [mentally ill] female patients at the Worcester State Hospital, fed them birth control pill prototypes, then sliced into their uteruses in an effort to understand the drug’s effect on ovulation.
In other words, Pincus lied about the purpose of his experiments – which were actually illegal in the state of Massachusetts, where they were conducted – then abused his subjects in a most unethical and brutal manner.
A callous disregard for proper medical ethics was to become a hallmark of Pincus’s birth control “research.” A later clinical trial of his contraceptive pill was conducted in Puerto Rico, where the eugenicists backing the trial were eager to control the population, and where laws and regulations were less stringent.
About the choice of Puerto Rico as a testing ground, Gabriela Soto Laveaga, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, commented: “The regulations were more lax, but also you had this belief that some people could be experimented on: the ‘feeble-minded,’ people of color, the poor.” Pincus had already experimented on the so-called “feeble-minded”; in Puerto Rico he would experiment on poor women of color.
Writing for History.com, Erin Blakemore noted:
Women who took the drug knew that it prevented pregnancy, but had no idea it was experimental or even that they were participating in a clinical trial. They weren’t given safety information about the product, either… and women experienced serious side effects like blood clots and nausea.
Furthermore, “Women who stepped forward to describe side effects of nausea, dizziness, headaches, and blood clots were discounted as ‘unreliable historians,’” wrote doctors Pamela Liao and Janet Dollin in their history of the oral contraceptive pill.
Indeed, Pincus told the New York Times, “These side-effects are largely psychogenic. Most of them happen because women expect them.” Blakemore concluded:
Pincus didn’t feel that side effects like nausea or depression warranted a reformulation of the pill. [His] only concern was proving its efficacy. Meanwhile, three women died during the clinical trials, but autopsies were not performed on their bodies…
According to New York Times writer Belluck, “Dr. Baulieu’s path to developing the abortion pill began in 1961 with a speaking invitation from Gregory Pincus… He suggested that Dr. Baulieu travel to Puerto Rico to observe clinical trials of the contraceptive pill.”
Although many of Pincus’s contemporaries objected to his questionable methods, Baulieu was not among them. On the contrary, he found the methods inspiring: “When I saw what they were doing in Puerto Rico, it was remarkable for the treatment of women,” he told Belluck.
The “treatment of women” in Puerto Rico was indeed “remarkable” – but not in the way Baulieu suggests. It was remarkable in its lack of consideration for women’s basic human rights.
Baulieu, however, found it so impressive that he named his current lab – which is on the site of an 18th-century prison – after Gregory Pincus.
LIKE IDEOLOGICAL FATHER, LIKE SON
Just as Pincus lied about the purpose of his early clinical trials, Baulieu did likewise, claiming the drug had other purposes. Belluck wrote:
To avoid controversy in meetings with [drug] company officials, Dr. Baulieu … emphasized a non-abortion-related property of [his] antiprogesterone compound: Because it would also block receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, it could theoretically treat burns, wounds, glaucoma and other conditions.
But Baulieu never had any intended purpose for his pill other than causing the deaths of preborn humans. He lied to further his own agenda, like his mentor before him.
And what of that deadly pill he is responsible for creating, which has caused the deaths of an estimated 5.6 million preborn human beings in the U.S. alone; which causes 40% of the women who take it “severe pain”; which sends 6% of the women who take it to the emergency room or urgent care; and which is associated with the deaths of 28 women*?
Belluck asks him no questions about this lethal legacy. And Baulieu? He merely offers a flippant remark: “I like women. Why not?”
*The FDA has received reports of serious adverse events in patients who took mifepristone. As of June 30, 2022, there were 28 reports of deaths in patients associated with mifepristone since the product was approved in September 2000, including two cases of ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy located outside the womb, such as in the fallopian tubes) resulting in death; and several fatal cases of severe systemic infection (also called sepsis). The adverse events cannot with certainty be causally attributed to mifepristone because of concurrent use of other drugs, other medical or surgical treatments, co-existing medical conditions, and information gaps about patient health status and clinical management of the patient. A summary report of adverse events that reflects data through June 30, 2022, is here. The FDA has reviewed this information and did not identify any new safety signals. The FDA intends to update this summary report as appropriate.
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