With the advent of abortion inducing drugs such as RU-486 and others, abortion has become increasingly private and available to anyone without a prescription or supervision of a physician. Join Scott and Sean as they interview Dr. Donna Harrison, about this alarming new trend in the availability of abortion and the risks it poses to women.
About our Guest
Dr. Donna Harrison is CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYNs (the largest non-sectarian pro-life organization in the world) and a long time practicing OB/GYN.
Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. It's a podcast from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host Sean McDowell, Professor of Christian Apologetics.
Scott Rae: We're here with our guest, Dr. Donna Harrison, who is the CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It's the largest non-sectarian pro-life organization in the world with over 6,000 members across the United States.
Scott Rae: Dr. Harrison has just, I just heard her present a fascinating paper entitled The Over-the-Counter Abortion. And so we've asked Dr. Harrison to come on and talk to us a little bit about that particular thing. So Donna, thank you so much for being with us and welcome.
Donna Harrison: Well, thank you for inviting me, Scott.
Scott Rae: Tell us what exactly do you mean by the over-the-counter abortion?
Donna Harrison: Well, what I mean by that is abortion drugs, which currently are and may soon be very much more so, available to anybody without visiting a doctor, without even verifying that the woman's pregnant, without knowing how far along she is, it's really dangerous.
Scott Rae: But at present these all have to be under a physician's care, correct?
Donna Harrison: No, actually there's about 86 different websites where you can just go online and order the drug without any prescription, without any physician care. It's usually shipped from China or India. And one of the studies that looked at these drugs found that a large per percent of those drugs didn't even have the amount of drug that they were supposed to have in the packages. Packages came broken and empty and you don't even know what you're getting. But they're available.
Scott Rae: So to call this an over-the-counter abortion drug really is no exaggeration then.
Donna Harrison: It's no exaggeration. And right now the Food and Drug Administration is considering removing the only requirements that keep this drug from going physically legally over-the-counter. And that is the REMS, which is the risk evaluation mitigation strategy. But we'll get into that more later.
Sean McDowell: So these are easily accessible. How expensive are they? Can most people, if not virtually all Americans afford them?
Donna Harrison: Well, I haven't done the run of the websites recently, but yes, most Americans could afford them. And what really concerns me is that disgruntled boyfriends can afford them. Pimps and abusers can afford them.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Donna Harrison: Angry girlfriends can afford them. Someone who's angry with somebody else, so anybody can afford them and anybody can cause a woman to abort even without her consent or even her knowledge.
Sean McDowell: If you had to guess, what would you say would be the reasons why these are not being regulated more and there's not more concern about this from the top in our government and leadership down?
Donna Harrison: You have to understand the FDA is an administrative agency. That means they follow the dictates of the Administration. So for example, when RU-486 was first being considered for FDA approval, Bill Clinton sent a letter via Donna Shalala to the manufacturer in France saying you will bring these drugs to the United States, even though Roussel-Uclaf, who was the French manufacturer, was afraid of the potential for lawsuits because we have such a uncontrolled medical system.
Donna Harrison: So the manufacturer of the drug, the one who held the patent rights, actually gave the drug to Population Council/Planned Parenthood, gave them the right to manufacture and distribute because Roussel-Uclaf didn't want the legal liability when these drugs caused complications.
Scott Rae: Donna, without getting too technical, tell us exactly how a drug-induced abortion actually works.
Donna Harrison: Okay. So when a woman becomes pregnant and that new human being is there in her womb, actually from the time of fertilization, she gets us signal to her brain, and her brain then gives a signal to the ovary to make a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone causes the woman's body to be able to receive the embryo for implanting and causes the woman's body to be able to continue to feed that and nourish that baby.
Donna Harrison: So progesterone, which actually if I break it down, pro means for, gest means pregnancy, and one is steroid hormone. So it's the for pregnancy steroid hormone. Her body makes that, and she has to have progesterone in order to carry the pregnancy.
Donna Harrison: So what RU-486, Mifeprex, Mifepristone, it's all the same drug. What that drug does is it blocks the action of progesterone at the level of the cell.
Donna Harrison: So it causes the mother's body to not be able to nourish that baby, but what's even more concerning is that drug actually blocks progesterone receptors all over a woman's body. So a woman has progesterone receptors in her breast, in her brain, in her adrenal glands, and in her immune system, by the way. And nobody is actually looking at what that progesterone or what that Mifeprex, that drug does when it blocks progesterone all over her body.
Donna Harrison: We know that it causes the woman's body to not feed the baby. The baby dies. And then there's a second drug called Misoprostol or Cytotec, which causes the uterus to contract and squeeze out the baby. So that's how the two drug system works, and it works 90, let's give it 95% of the time around seven weeks gestation. That is three weeks after she misses her period. But by the time you get out to 10 weeks gestation, this is down into the 80% working.
Donna Harrison: So you've got one out of six women in which it won't fully empty the uterus. And as she gets further and further in the pregnancy, the less and less effective this drug combination becomes.
Donna Harrison: What that means is there are significant risks to that woman when she has tissue left inside, when she hemorrhages from the drug and when she has her immune system blocked so that she can't fight off normal infections.
Donna Harrison: So one of the things that we know from this Mifepristone/Misoprostol combination is that women are more susceptible to a fatal, a rapidly fatal infection called Clostridium sordellii. And there were at the very beginning of Mifepristone's approval, there were four women in California that rapidly died, and it turned out it was from this normal soil bacteria that normally women can fight off, but these women couldn't fight off the Clostridium sordellii because of the immune suppressant effect of both Mifepristone and Misoprostol.
Sean McDowell: Now that's heartbreaking. I'd never heard that four women in California died from this. So I can only imagine how many others did.
Sean McDowell: You said a moment ago that we don't really know the effects of some of these drugs that are taken. Is that because of a lack of curiosity? Is that because money that's being made? Is it a blindness? Am I naive or cynical? Isn't this exactly what the medical community is supposed to do?
Donna Harrison: Well, the medical community, and especially the FDA is actually tasked with overseeing safety of drugs, but it turns out that to do a research study, you have to have money. And the only one invested in doing research on Mifepristone and Misoprostol is the abortion industry.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Donna Harrison: And why in the world would they invest money in finding out the complications when what they're there for is to sell the drug. These are money making industries, and remember, Planned Parenthood held the right to manufacture and distribute these drugs.
Scott Rae: So Donna, let's go back to the medical part of this. In those cases where the drug combination doesn't work and there's some remnant of the unborn child left in the womb, what's the procedure that's done? What happens next? And how do we know that the general practice physician who the woman probably is seeing is actually qualified to do the follow up work that's necessary?
Donna Harrison: Well, you hit on a very important point. We don't know that the person seeing the woman in the emergency room even knows that she's taken the abortion drug. And we don't know whether or not that person is going to be capable of rapidly responding with blood transfusion, if needed.
Donna Harrison: Especially for women who are in rural areas, there isn't always blood transfusion available. And there isn't always an OB-GYN there capable of rapidly emptying her uterus. So it's a real risk, especially in rural areas where this drug is being targeted, where women are being targeted for the use of this drug.
Donna Harrison: I'm glad you asked about how do we know what their complications are because I just got finished with publishing with a group of OB-GYNs, all of the adverse event reports that were submitted to the FDA after the use of Mifepristone, from its approval to February of 2019.
Donna Harrison: And what we found was very interesting on a number of different levels. What we found was that there were about 3000, 3,197 to be specific. There were about 3000 adverse events, and almost 16% of them didn't even have enough information to determine what happened to the woman.
Donna Harrison: So we ended up with about 2,600, where we could actually determine what happened to the woman. And 20 of these were deaths. 500 plus were life threatening, adverse events. So the woman would lose all of her blood volume and have to be transfused 10 units of blood. The type of blood transfusions that you see with major car accidents. Okay? This is massive hemorrhage or infections so bad that she spends time in the ICU. These are really serious.
Donna Harrison: And if that woman were in the rural area and she didn't have access to life saving procedures, these 520 would be dead. Okay? In the developing world, these 520 would be dead. So the life threatening situations are really the how quickly she could get to emergency medical care.
Donna Harrison: There were another 2000 that were severe, and these women are hospitalized. They have tissue left inside. They hemorrhage massively. They get big infections. And this is the kind of thing that is really frightening when we added all of these adverse events up.
Donna Harrison: But what was even worse is that based on the literature, we should have seen 185,000 adverse events. So what we know from our looking at the FDA data is that the FDA only gets 2% of the actual adverse events that were taking place.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Donna Harrison: So we have an extremely important public health problem that the FDA is turning a blind eye to. And what's even worse is that in 2016, the FDA told the manufacturer of the drug, "Oh, you don't have to tell us about adverse events anymore. Just tell us about the deaths."
Donna Harrison: So that means this information is not being collected by anyone. No one is looking, and it was at the same time that the FDA said, "Oh, and by the way, you can extend the use of this drug further and further into pregnancy."
Donna Harrison: They said 10 weeks instead of the seven weeks, and no one's tracking the implications or the results. It's a willful blindness on the part of the FDA to make a change in the way the drug is used and then not look at the consequences. It's a blind and dumb on purpose. And I think that the country needs to hold the FDA accountable for this kind of willful blindness.
Sean McDowell: It's no exaggeration to say that's just stunning and disturbing on the highest level. So if I heard you correctly, this over-the-counter drug, we know of 20 deaths, 520 that probably would be, thousands of other complications, and this is 2% of what's been reported. So we really don't the extent of this. And there's a lack of curiosity from the FDA. Did that kind of sum up, did I get the heart of it?
Donna Harrison: Not 2% of what's been reported because we saw everything that was reported to the FDA.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Donna Harrison: It's 2% of what we know are the complications because from other studies, we know that the complication rate, the rate of women going in to the emergency room is somewhere between five and 8%. That means one out of 20 women end up in the ER.
Donna Harrison: So based on that, and based on the fact that there's 3.7 million chemical abortions done, we should have seen 185,000 adverse event reports.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Donna Harrison: And we saw only 3000. So that tells us that the FDA doesn't have a clue. And in an era, I mean, we're not talking 1950, okay.
Sean McDowell: Right.
Donna Harrison: This is 2021 where we can know to the minute who's died of COVID. Okay? But we are willfully blind to what happens when a woman has a complication from abortion. And this is just unconscionable.
Sean McDowell: You make it-
Donna Harrison: We moan and complain, and rightly so, about the horrible maternal mortality rate in the United States.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Donna Harrison: And especially horrible maternal mortality rate in the African American population. And yet we don't track the mortality from abortion, which is part of maternal mortality. It's just such willful blindness.
Sean McDowell: You make the claim that the way this is done normally would constitute malpractice in any other area, not just of medicine, but within gynecology itself. What do you mean by that?
Donna Harrison: Yes. So normally, when a woman comes in, and she has a miscarriage, or she thinks she's having a miscarriage, she's bleeding in the first trimester, what a real OB-GYN does is they do an ultrasound and they look to see is the baby alive, or is the baby dead? Or is the baby in the uterus? Or is the in the tube? Because all of those change how you manage the patient.
Donna Harrison: So if a woman's bleeding and she comes in and she's got a positive pregnancy test and you do an ultrasound, and there's no pregnancy in the uterus, that woman may have a pregnancy in her tube. And so you have to do the procedures necessary to treat an ectopic pregnancy. In fact, some of the deaths from Mifeprex abortion were from women that never had an ultrasound and were given the Mifeprex and they had a pregnancy in their tube.
Donna Harrison: And when they were having terrible pain and bleeding and they called the clinic, the clinic said, "Oh, that's a normal part of a Mifeprex abortion. Take some Tylenol." And the women bled to death internally because they were having a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Donna Harrison: So it would be malpractice to not determine, to not make a diagnosis. You have to diagnose is the woman pregnant and where is the pregnancy before you do any kind of treatment? However, in this over-the-counter, willy-nilly use of abortion drugs, what you have is a self report, oh, I'm pregnant. And maybe they're even male and not even capable of being pregnant, but they over the internet or over the phone say, "Oh, I'm pregnant. And I think I'm this far along." No one looks. No one does an ultrasound. So if that woman really is pregnant, and if she really has a pregnancy in her tube, she can die and no one will know.
Donna Harrison: So this is what I'm talking about. It's malpractice not to make a diagnosis prior to implementing a therapy. That's just common sense. And what's even worse is there's no way in creation that an abortionist can give adequate informed consent to a woman without knowing how far along in pregnancy she is. Because the further in pregnancy she is, the higher the risk of a complication.
Donna Harrison: So for a woman at seven weeks, you would say you have a 95% chance that the chemical abortion will cause you to lose the baby. But if she's at 14 weeks, she has a one in three chance that she's going to need surgery, a 30% chance. So without knowing how far along she is, you can't give informed consent. You can't tell her what her risks are.
Donna Harrison: So this is what I'm saying. If you would do this in any other situation where you don't actually make a diagnosis and you just implement a treatment, and to make matters worse, you're not even there to handle the complications. That would be malpractice.
Donna Harrison: So why do I say that? Because when we looked at the adverse event reports, nearly half of the D&Cs that were done in women who were bleeding or had complications, nearly half of those were not done by the abortionists. They were done by the ER doc. So as a OB-GYN, we are gynecological surgeons. A surgeon takes care of their own complications. And if you're not able to take care of your complications, the common complications, you don't do surgery. That's just part of being a physician. So that's what I'm saying. The way women are being kicked to the curb in abortion would constitute malpractice in any other area of gynecology.
Scott Rae: Now, Donna, you make the claim in your paper that these over-the-counter abortion drugs are now available on college campuses in many states. You mentioned in California, it's actually required by law that they be available on public university college campuses. Did I read that correctly?
Donna Harrison: Well, that's my understanding that the law in California says that Mifeprex will be part of the campus health system. But what concerns me about that is who is going to take care of the complications? When she's hemorrhaging in her dorm room, and she's passing a fetus on the floor of the common bathroom-
Sean McDowell: Geez.
Donna Harrison: ... who's going to be there? Who's going to take care of it? And think of the infectious disease issues of that much blood happening in a common bathroom. Who's going to clean that up?
Scott Rae: I think I'm about to be sick.
Donna Harrison: I'm sorry. And maybe I'm being too graphic.
Scott Rae: No, not at all. Not at all. Now, Donna, you make the very provocative claim that pornography, sex trafficking, and abortion are an inseparable triad. Tell us a little bit more what you mean by that. That sounds like a pretty out there claim.
Donna Harrison: Yeah.
Scott Rae: So spell out what you mean by that.
Donna Harrison: Okay. So AAPLOG, American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs has a really important committee opinion on this topic. So if you go to applog.org, and you look under resource, and that'll be a dropdown and look under committee opinions. We have a committee opinion that details it. So I'm going to just take that multiple page document and condense it into two or three sentences.
Donna Harrison: So sex trafficking will involve some pregnancies, just kind of by definition. I don't care what kind of contraceptive they use. Sex trafficking will involve pregnancies. In order to manage the herd, those sex traffickers often have a arrangement with abortion clinics and frequently Planned Parenthood, so that there's a don't ask don't tell policy when a 12 year old or 13 year old comes in for her second abortion. So abortion enables pimps and sex traffickers to manage their herd.
Donna Harrison: Part of the profit made from sex trafficking is also pornography. So these girls are often photographed in horrible situations. And the pornography feeds the person who consumes sex trafficking. So the whole triad of pornography, sex trafficking, and abortion, they feed off of each other. And the victims are the women.
Donna Harrison: And the reason we know this is there's been a couple of really good studies, one by Laura Lederer, interviewing women who have come out of sex trafficking, the sex trafficking victims. And what they said was the most common place where they encountered medical care was Planned Parenthood. So they, and one out of three of them were taken to a Planned Parenthood clinic for abortions.
Donna Harrison: So it is an enabling industry. The abortion industry enables the sex trafficking industry, and the pornography industry feeds the demand for sex trafficking.
Donna Harrison: And that's why we said they're an inseparable triad. When you reduce the availability of abortion, you reduce the ability of the sex trafficker to manage their herd without being detected. And when you make abortion over-the-counter, and by the way, some of these websites I told you about, they offer a bulk discount for Mifeprex, for buying the abortion drug.
Donna Harrison: Now who in the world is going to get Mifeprex in bulk?
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Donna Harrison: Except a sex trafficker. And this isolates women from even encountering Planned Parenthood. So it's a very difficult and really dark fact that sex trafficking and abortion feed off of each other.
Scott Rae: Donna, maybe I'm just being naive about this. But my understanding was that physicians who treat women are obligated to report to Child Protective Services or to law enforcement when underage girls are coming in, and it's obvious that they've been having sexual relations with somebody who is under the law would constitute statutory rape.
Donna Harrison: Correct.
Scott Rae: But it doesn't sound like any of that's going on.
Donna Harrison: Well, a law is as good as the enforcement that is willing to be given to it. So for example, there was one case in, I believe it was Atlanta, where a 13 year old was coming in for her second abortion. And it was a Planned Parenthood clinic. And the clinic staff was interviewed later by law enforcement. People saying, "Why didn't you report this?"
Donna Harrison: And the clinic staff said, "Well, she looked like she was being well taken care of. We had no reason to suspect abuse." And I'm reading this thinking a 13 year old for her second abortion. That is by definition abuse. By definition.
Donna Harrison: So you have to have law enforcement people and judges who are willing to enforce the laws on the books. We can spend all this effort in passing laws, and if the laws aren't enforced, then they're nullified.
Donna Harrison: So I think we as citizens need to take a more active role in ensuring that the laws on reporting a statutory rape are actually enforced. And that will do a lot for decreasing sex trafficking.
Sean McDowell: You obviously have a real passion and a heart for this, for obvious reasons. But what has the feedback been from Christians, non-Christians, other OB-GYNs, non-doctors, when you speak up on this and draw attention to it?
Donna Harrison: Well, I'll speak for OB-GYNs. Most OB-GYNs are very busy. Most OB-GYNs are not wanting to get involved in controversial things, and they want to go home and spend some time with their family. So I understand why my colleagues don't want to get involved in something that is very difficult to talk about and raise this controversy.
Donna Harrison: With other people, I think there isn't enough light shed. When you shed the light in the room, the cockroaches run. And I think what you're doing right now, by opening up this topic to people who can then go, and I encourage you, go double check what I was saying, triple check it. Get informed on what's happening in the country regarding chemical abortion, drug induced abortion, and then take some action because we need people to become aware, and it takes time to become aware. But Google it. Go to our website. I mean, we have tons of information about what's happening with chemical abortion, and we need people to start enforcing laws.
Scott Rae: But Donna, you suggest also that most OB-GYNs don't perform abortions.
Donna Harrison: That's correct.
Scott Rae: Right?
Donna Harrison: They don't. Most OB-GYNs, so there's been three national surveys now. Two done by the abortion industry. And they show that that only somewhere between seven and maybe up to 15% of OB-GYNs, who are not otherwise affiliated with abortion, only between seven and 15% of OB-GYNs actually perform abortions in their practice.
Donna Harrison: And it's not because they don't know how to empty a uterus at any gestational age. We all do. That's what OB-GYN training is about. We can empty a uterus in 10 minutes at any gestational age. But we know that that human being inside the womb is our second patient. So why would we kill it? Why would we kill him or her inside the womb? So OB-GYN is intrinsically a pro-life specialty.
Donna Harrison: And you don't go into OB-GYN because you want to remove tissue. You go into OB-GYN to care for the human beings that have been given you to care for. That's what it means to be a Hippocratic physician.
Donna Harrison: So it's important that that people understand most OB-GYNS don't do abortions, and that's despite enormous pressure, enormous pressure to do abortion. And it's very lucrative to become an abortionist. You don't have any malpractice issues because women hesitate to sue. You don't have any preoperative care. You frequently don't see the patient at all until she's up in stirrups. You go in 10 minutes, $250 bucks. You can make thousands of dollars an hour.
Donna Harrison: But OB-GYNs don't do that because they care about their patients, and that unborn human being inside their womb is their second patient. That was foundational to OB-GYN training.
Donna Harrison: So despite all that, the American college of OB-GYNs, which is the largest OB-GYN professional organization is rabidly pro-abortion, stuffing abortion down the throats of OB-GYNs. And many of us had just got tired of it. And that's actually where my organization, the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs came from. We got tired of the rabid pro-abortion policies and lobbying that ACOG is doing. And we said there needs to be a OB-GYN professional society who is sane on the issue of abortion.
Scott Rae: Donna, I find that the percentages you cite of OB-GYNS who do not perform abortion to be very encouraging, and the reasons pretty compelling for that. As you look at the pro-life movement and the abortion landscape, one final question. What gives you hope? What are you encouraged about as you look at that landscape?
Donna Harrison: Well, the good news is truth is on our side.
Sean McDowell: Amen.
Donna Harrison: Scientific truth is on our side. And so if you look at the fact that there is another human being, and most people with ultrasound today have no problem seeing that other human being inside the womb, then it becomes harder and harder to defend the lie that there's just a blob of tissue in there. Blobs of tissue don't smile and suck their thumbs and perform for you.
Donna Harrison: And unless we're all a blob of tissue, I guess. So I'm encouraged that eventually truth wins, and we are winning. Most people understand there is another human be inside. And most people, especially the younger generation, are more pro-life than ever. So I think that's the most encouraging thing,
Scott Rae: Donna, this has been actually just incredibly insightful. I have to admit part of this has actually been pretty discouraging to realize.
Donna Harrison: Sorry.
Scott Rae: That the over-the-counter abortion is not only becoming a reality, but is one. I would encourage our listeners to look at your website of the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, for lots more information that you've suggested and to become a lot more informed about this, particularly over-the-counter abortion.
Scott Rae: I've thought about for the first time this triad between pornography and sex trafficking and over-the-counter abortion. That's just such an incredible phenomena that we just have a hard time wrapping our arms around that, but I want to commend your work to our listeners. And we are so grateful for the work that you're doing. Being out here on the front lines of this, looking at the research that's available and continuing to make the truth known.
Scott Rae: I'm very encouraged with the notion the truth wins, and truth is on our side on this, but these are some hard things for our listeners to wrap their arms around. So Donna, we really appreciate you coming on with us. This has been really, I think, a challenging and difficult podcast to hear and to record just because the reality is so dark as we look at some of this.
Scott Rae: But I think the good news is that technology, as you mentioned, I think is definitely on the side of the pro-life movement. I think you're right. It's becoming harder and harder to refer to the unborn child simply as a clump of cells or a blob of tissue, sort of analogous to another body part.
Scott Rae: And thank the Lord for the advances in technology that have enabled us to peer into the womb with much more precision. And I think it makes it much more difficult to dismiss the personhood of the unborn child.
Scott Rae: So, Donna, thank you so much for being with us. This has been a really arresting time, and we're so grateful for your work and for your practice and for the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs.
Donna Harrison: Well, thank you. It's been an honor to be on.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including our brand new Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy offered on our campus.
Scott Rae: If you enjoyed today's conversation with Dr. Donna Harrison and her organization, the American Association of Pro-Life OB-GYNs, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.