Pro-life researcher fights retraction of abortion studies | WORLD
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Pro-life researcher fights retraction of abortion studies

Publisher pulled studies after attorneys cited them in chemical abortion case

Bottles of the drug misoprostol, an abortion-inducing drug Associated Press/Photo by Allen G. Breed, File

Pro-life researcher fights retraction of abortion studies

When James Studnicki studied emergency room data on post-abortion complications, he made two unexpected discoveries. First, hospitals were miscategorizing abortion-related emergencies as miscarriages, and second, complications following abortions were more common than anyone previously reported.

Studnicki, the vice president and director of data analytics at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, published a paper on his findings in 2022. His findings became a talking point for pro-life activists and factored into court decisions about the abortion drug mifepristone. They also drew criticism from abortion supporters, who accused Studnicki of bias and misrepresenting data. Earlier this year, Sage Publications retracted the paper and two others—a move that could affect future court cases and ultimately how healthcare professionals treat women experiencing complications from abortion.

Studnicki has interpreted health outcomes data for the last 50 years, publishing more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and leading research about health systems at Johns Hopkins University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and the University of South Florida. He specializes in analyzing large-scale databases.

Studnicki and fellow researchers studied Medicaid billing data and found that ER staff miscoded 60.9 percent of Medicaid patients as having miscarriages within four weeks following a certified abortion, which is too early to be a subsequent pregnancy. According to these findings, medical personnel filing adverse event reports overlook many abortion complications.

Studnicki’s work contested claims that only 2 percent of abortions result in complications. In a 2021 study, Studnicki’s team found that the abortion pill causes more complications than surgical abortions. The results backed up independent studies from Finland in 2009 and California in 2015 that showed complications for chemical abortions were four times higher than for surgical ones.

“In all of the countries that have abortion registries like the Scandinavian countries, where they can follow a woman who has an abortion, they can follow things like whether or not she dies and her healthcare services,” Studnicki said. He added that there is an abortion “data desert” for surgical and chemical abortions in the United States. States are not required to submit abortion data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration reports only abortion-related deaths due to mifepristone.

On its website, Planned Parenthood tells women that emergency medical staff don’t need to know about their chemical abortion, arguing that post-abortive complications require the same treatment as a miscarriage. The website Healthline also tells women in pro-life states that they don’t need to inform doctors about their chemical abortion if they experience complications. “You don’t have to disclose that you induced the abortion,” it says. “You can say that you’re experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding or suspect that you’re having a miscarriage. These conditions are treated the same way.”

But Studnicki pointed to major treatment differences. His study found that women had a “dramatically increased likelihood of a subsequent hospital admission” due to an incomplete abortion, meaning that some tissue from the placenta remains inside the mother, causing serious complications. Parts of the baby might also need to be removed if the pregnancy was not dated correctly due to lack of an ultrasound or an inaccurately recorded menstrual cycle.

“Women would come in and say they’re bleeding,” Studnicki said, referring to what medical professionals would understand to be a miscarriage. “They would be treated differently. There would be a delay in their treatment. … Not only do these miscodes occur, but they are dangerous.”

Chris Adkins, a pharmaceutical sciences professor, contacted Sage Publications with concerns about Charlotte Lozier, a pro-life research group, studying abortion. Charlotte Lozier provided the required disclosures when it submitted Studnicki’s papers, including their funding and affiliations. Sage uses double-blind peer reviews, meaning the reviewer doesn’t know who wrote or funded the paper, and authors don’t know who the publisher selects to review the study. When Sage investigated, they found they had assigned an associate of Charlotte Lozier to review two of Studnicki’s papers. As a result, Sage recruited two experts to review all three articles, and they recommended the retractions based on concerns about misleading graphs, patient selection, and conflict of interest. The retractions did not address the miscoding Studnicki uncovered.

Retractions guard the public from questionable results, follow a regulated process, and can make it hard for researchers to get published elsewhere. Pro-abortion groups jumped on the retraction of Studnicki’s work. Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times said the studies will be used “to validate judicial opinions by substituting junk science for rigorous research.”

According to Studnicki, Sage Publications didn’t respond to the nearly 20 pages of explanation the Charlotte Lozier Institute submitted since June 2023. “There is no single finding that we have produced that has ever been challenged, let alone invalidated,” he said, adding that the publisher offered no “single substantive response.” Studnicki said he is pursuing “appropriate legal action” and established a website,, answering each concern Sage presented. Sage did not respond to WORLD’s requests for comment.

In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the lawsuit of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM) vs. the FDA. The AHM is a group of pro-life individuals and associations in the medical field. Obstetricians and gynecologists in the group claim that ER visits will increase with increased unsupervised use of the abortion pill, forcing them to leave their patients to provide post-abortion emergency care. The group included the Studnicki papers in its arguments at the appellate court level, and Charlotte Lozier also cited the studies in an amicus brief filed in support of AHM prior to the oral arguments held at the Supreme Court.

During the arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the lawyers representing Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, how many adverse effects and ER visits would be enough to give these doctors the right to sue. Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked if federal laws protect doctors from performing or assisting in abortions. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson repeatedly asked if the doctors were utilizing the protection already put in place for them.

If accurate, Studnicki’s research shows ER doctors are unknowingly treating women for complications directly relating to a recent abortion, thinking they are providing care for a miscarriage. In 2020, Dr. Lisa Harris wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine that, as chemical abortions increase, providers must become “comfortable with the ambiguity of providing care without knowing whether it is for spontaneous or induced abortion.” This opposes Jackson’s insistence doctors can obey their consciences.

Studnicki doesn’t “like the idea” of the three papers’ retraction, but he said it’s not the career-killer it would have been earlier in his life.

“There is a certain element in all of this that says, ‘You’re an 81-year-old man. And yet, you are fighting this fight. Your stuff has been in front of the Supreme Court,’” he said. “‘How can anything better happen to you than this? What man of my age could have hoped to have such a battle thrust upon him? It’s an incredible gift. And that’s the way I’m going to view it.”

I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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