GOP Lawmakers Oppose the Abortion Pill and ‘Plan B.’ They Hardly Understand Either.

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion and women’s reproductive issues have been politically painful thorns in the GOP’s side.

Time and again, the issue has invigorated Democrats and independents to come out against Republicans at the polls, which has, in turn, motivated GOP operatives to stress the need to soften the anti-abortion messaging and policies that Republicans have promoted for years.

Former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has urged the party to promote birth control access. The head of the Senate GOP campaign arm, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), pleaded with Republican candidates to explicitly embrace In Vitro Fertilization. Even former President Donald Trump—the architect of the fall of Roe—notably avoided committing to a national abortion ban just a few weeks ago.

But if you ask Republican lawmakers about specific abortion policies—such as access to mifepristone, commonly known as “the abortion pill”—you’ll find plenty of GOP lawmakers who aren’t just backing down; they’re doubling down.

This GOP Rep.’s Anti-Abortion Stances Keep Vanishing From Her Website

When The Daily Beast interviewed Republicans about mifepristone in the Capitol complex this week, it became clear that GOP lawmakers may have missed the memo about softening their rhetoric—or maybe even any memo at all about the abortion drug.

“I think it’s dangerous,” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said of mifepristone. “Some of these things are really dangerous from what I understand. Unfortunately, I’ve never had to face that in preventing my kids or the grandkids, but I don’t know.”

“To me, it sounds like it’s dangerous,” he added.

The notion that mifepristone is “dangerous” was a common talking point among Republican lawmakers when The Daily Beast asked about the drug, though plenty of Republicans also admitted they didn’t know much about the abortion drug that can end a pregnancy up to 10 weeks of gestation.

Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA)—a member of the committee with jurisdiction over health care—was initially one of the Republicans who told The Daily Beast he was “not really familiar with that.”

But once The Daily Beast clarified that mifepristone was the so-called abortion pill, Allen claimed the FDA “rushed through this process to make this thing available.”

“One of the problems we’ve got—and this is from the physician community—saying that that’s a very dangerous drug,” Allen said. “It has to be very carefully and timely administered.”

“You don’t want to kill people with this,” he added.

Experts strongly dispute the idea that mifepristone presents a significant danger to users. Dr. Dan Grossman—an expert on contraception and abortion who is also a professor at University of California, San Francisco—told The Daily Beast that mifepristone is a “very safe medication.”

“Death risk after taking mifepristone for a medication abortion is exceedingly rare,” Grossman said, noting that the death rate from taking mifepristone is “much lower” than the death rate for childbirth.

“It’s also safer than other medications,” Grossman added, noting he didn’t think Republicans have a problem with drugs like Viagra and other erectile dysfunction treatments, “which have a higher rate of deaths associated with use.”

The GOP Hopes Contraception Can Solve Its Abortion Problem

Still, mifepristone is, in fact, the subject of a heated national debate that went all the way to the Supreme Court last month. Last year, Fifth Circuit Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk sided with anti-abortion groups trying to revoke mifepristone’s Food and Drug Administration approval, which allows for over-the-counter prescriptions and delivery by mail.

The Republican Study Committee—one of the largest House GOP caucuses that includes an eclectic cross-section of moderate and conservative lawmakers—has endorsed taking mifepristone regulation even further. In its annual budget proposal, the committee included a ban on “chemical abortions,” which would prohibit mifepristone and a drug often taken in a two-part regimen, Misoprostol.

Plenty of Republicans are skeptical of emergency contraception, and even more are supportive of banning mifepristone and other abortion medications outright. But vulnerable moderates in the GOP do appear more attuned to the political realities at hand.

Centrist Republicans tanked a House spending bill, in part, over concerns with language that would have undone mifepristone’s FDA approval. But even those Republicans who led that effort seem less than familiar with what mifepristone is.

Although he was a leader on keeping mifepristone FDA-approved, Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) has repeatedly seemed to refer to the drug as “over-the-counter birth control.” Asked whether he considers mifepristone to be birth control, his office didn’t directly answer the question, but Molinaro did make a distinction between contraception and mifepristone in a statement.

“I care about the difficult choice women have to make, said I would reject a national abortion ban, and kept my word,” Molinaro said in the statement. “It’s why I’m also leading the charge to protect access to IVF, contraception, and mifepristone.”

Even members who are the public face of such a ban aren’t eager to talk about it. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN)—the lead sponsor of the Republican Study Committee “chemical abortion” ban—didn’t want to discuss his proposal with The Daily Beast earlier this week, referring us to his staff for an official statement.

Republican Study Committee member Rep. Dan Meuser (D-PA) admitted he didn’t know much about mifepristone, but his message about women would have made the most shrewd GOP strategists proud.

“I want to honestly be really honest with you, I don’t know enough about it. I would not be supportive of [banning] something that is currently legal and used in a legal manner that women find necessary,” Meuser said. “Look I’m pro-life, but I trust women.”

Although many GOP lawmakers were uninformed or wary of talking about birth control or mifepristone, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC)—a leading conservative—wasn’t one of them.

When The Daily Beast asked Norman about a ban for the drug, he was emphatic.

“Yeah, I am definitely for that,” he said.

But it’s not just mifepristone that some Republicans are targeting. When The Daily Beast asked some lawmakers about the “morning-after pill,” also commonly known as Plan B, they expressed reservations.

“The morning-after pill is an abortifacient,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) told The Daily Beast outside the Capitol this week, referring to a term used for things that will cause a miscarriage. “That’s a medical fact. You call it whatever you want. That’s what it is.”

Over 60,000 board-certified doctors disagree. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintains that emergency contraception does not induce an abortion, let alone a miscarriage. Instead, these experts say, the morning-after pill just prevents a pregnancy from occurring in the first place. The Food and Drug Administration agrees, specifying in 2022 that Plan B blocks fertilization and does not stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

Harris is a doctor himself, with a medical degree from John Hopkins University. But to argue his point, he leaned on a different credential: He took Latin in high school.

“Go back and see where the word comes from, ‘abortifacient,’” Harris said. (The word combines “abortion”—“abortus” in Latin, meaning miscarriage—with the Latin “facere,” to make or do.)

“It’s what they are. We can have a disagreement whether or not that’s right or not,” Harris said. “But scientifically, you say yes, it actually is. I don’t know why you’d argue with that.”

Harris is hardly the only Republican lawmaker with this hardline position. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA)—known as one of the fiercest anti-abortion advocates in the House—similarly called the morning-after pill an “abortifacient” in 2013, before he was elected to Congress.

Johnson’s office didn’t respond to a question from The Daily Beast about whether he maintains that view, but it’s notable that, given the increased scrutiny as the most powerful Republican lawmaker in the country, he has yet to publicly clarify his position.

Like most Republicans, he may be hoping he doesn’t have to.

Continuing with the conversation we had with Rep. Kelly—the Pennsylvania Republican who told The Daily Beast that mifepristone was “dangerous”—he also expressed reluctance with Plan-B.

Regarding that emergency contraception, Kelly suggested there were “things you can do ahead of time.”

“It’s really up to couples, isn’t it? When people tell me, ‘We just weren’t expecting it.’ I say, ‘You understood the possibility of that, right?’” Kelly said. “I mean, unless you’ve never had any talks with mom or dad.”

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