STATS ARTICLES 2006

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Reuters Raises Alarm Over Abortion Pill
May 11, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
But look at the numbers for a different story

Here's a classic example of drawing an alarmist headline from a story containing numbers. The Reuters news agency posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline "Health experts say cause for concern over "abortion pill".

And no doubt because of this headline, the story was given a link on the Drudge Report. Drudge has many conservative readers and many conservatives are opposed to RU-486 because they see it promoting abortion. The Reuters lede continued the theme:

"Reports of rare bacterial infections, including a handful of cases in women who have taken the controversial RU-486 abortion pill, are cause for concern and warrant further study, U.S. health experts said on Thursday."

Four of the six women who died after taking RU-486 since 2000 died from these bacterial infections. But, as Reuters noted, officials did not link these infections to RU-486 (also known as Mifeprex).

By contrast, ten women - eight who recently gave birth vaginally or by Caeserean section and two who had miscarriages - died from the same bacterial infections. So why not a headline "Health experts say cause for concern over pregnancy?" After all, the numbers are higher and the "risk" - small though it may be - appears to be greater.

As the Associated Press reported, the real story goes beyond RU-486 and speaks to the mystery of why certain bacteria are suddenly proving deadly in a a range of different situations.

"The numbers suggest the bacterium's threat, while still limited, could be broader than previously thought. 'That's a critical question: Is this association between use of Mifeprex and infection with C. sordellii . . . or is it something more general?' asked Susan Wood, the former top women's health official at the Food and Drug Administration. She thinks it is the latter."

In contrast to Reuters, The Boston Globe titled the AP-reported story, "Mystery moves past abortion pill link."The AP also noted an additional death due to an infection in a woman during her menstrual period.

As STATS has previously reported, the press has constantly misstated or overstated the risk from RU-486. The real story here is how a common bacterial infection is now proving fatal to women in a variety of circumstances. By pointing to a correlation between the infection and RU-486 that has not yet been shown to be causal, Reuters has misstated the actual risk as well as pandered to those groups who are agitating to have the drug banned.