Wyoming Republicans invent their own 'science' to try to ban medication abortion


The impact of this type of ban could be especially disastrous for a state as large and sparsely populated as Wyoming.

On Friday, the Wyoming Senate that passed a bill seeking to outlaw the drugs used in medication abortions, sending it to the state House for consideration. It's a move that ignores all available science on the safety of those drugs. 

The impact of a ban, were it to pass, could be especially disastrous for a state as large and sparsely populated as Wyoming. Nearly all abortions performed in the state are medication abortions, and 96% of Wyoming counties have no providers

Having a medication abortion typically involves a two-drug regimen that is highly safe. If the medication is taken before the nine-week mark of a pregnancy, the regimen is 99.6% successful, with a risk of a major complication of only 0.4%. 

A recent study looked at what happens when patients use telemedicine to have medication abortion drugs prescribed and before receiving then receive them by mail. Participants in that study found it to be "safe, effective, efficient, and satisfactory." Further, the study authors noted that being able to prescribe via by telemedicine and dispense medication by mail could increase abortion access, as it could increase the reach of each provider. 

Another new study looked at what happens when pharmacists, rather than abortion providers, dispense mifepristone. Pharmacists, the study noted, are already able to dispense treatments for erectile dysfunction, even though those drugs are less safe than the ones used for a medication abortion.

The study found that when pharmacists provide the medication it's similar to when doctors dispense it: The procedure is safe and effective. Of 266 people in the study, only 4 reported any adverse event, and the study determined that none of those events were related to the fact a pharmacist dispensed the drugs. 

Just as important, the study looked at whether patients felt satisfied with having a pharmacist dispense the pill. Over 90% of patients said they were, and nearly 70% said they'd recommend the process to a friend seeking an abortion. 

The biggest concern expressed by study participants was that of wait times — waiting for a pharmacy to dispense a prescription can sometimes be time-consuming, but that's not in any way related to the actual procedure. 

Anti-abortion politicians in Wyoming have much of this information at their disposal, particularly as doctors testified to a Senate committee about the drugs' safety and when they're used. Jackson, Wyoming-based family medicine provider Dr. Katie Noyes explained that medication abortions can only occur up to the 10-week mark of pregnancy, well before a pregnancy is developed. 

Rather than listening to the science, GOP state Sen. Tim Salazar, the bill's sponsor, instead invented a fictional horror story about the effects of medication abortion drugs. 

Salazar called  the use of the drugs  "cruel and unusual" and said it imposes "a barbaric death sentence carried out by chemically induced starvation." 

However, factually speaking, there's no way in which blocking pregnancy hormones and inducing cramping and bleeding can be considered "starvation." As Dr. Noyes explained, the drugs don't even block blood flow to the uterus, only the hormone. 

There's an additional problem with Salazar's anti-science stance. Dr. Rene Hinkle, a Wyoming ob-gyn, testified against the bill and pointed out that the same drugs used for medication abortion drugs are sometimes used in the event of a miscarriage. That's because performing a medication abortion and helping someone complete a miscarriage is medically identical, said Hinkle.  Were the drugs to be outlawed for abortions, physicians might hesitate to use them for miscarriages. The measure imposes a misdemeanor punishment of up to six months in jail and a $750 fine.

Removing the option of a medication abortion won't decrease the need for abortions, said Dr. Noyes. It will just shift demand, requiring people to travel further and undergo lengthier procedures — all because some legislators don't believe in science.