Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who was once a ferocious opponent of Donald Trump, submitted a letter Monday to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) co-signed by 20 of his GOP colleagues, asking the agency to take the abortion pill off the market amid the coronavirus pandemic, calling the lawful medication "deadly" and an "imminent hazard to the public health."
As an exigent excuse, Cruz wrote that the pandemic is exacerbating risks to women's health, which appears inarguable, but then said that "pregnancy is not a life-threatening illness, and the abortion pill does not cure or prevent any disease."
That is very from the truth. While pregnancy is not an "illness" as that term is commonly understood, 830 women die from pregnancy-related complications every day, according to the World Health Organization.
Further, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which operates under the same umbrella department as the FDA — Health and Human Services — the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is more than double that: 37.1 deaths per 100,000 births. Compared with rates in 10 similarly wealthy countries, the U.S. would rank last.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republican elected officials and anti-abortion groups have tried to leverage the crisis to curtail abortion access — largely without success. In March, a federal judge overruled an abortion ban that Cruz's home state of Texas had put in place amid the pandemic.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the "abortion pill" Mifeprex could only be prescribed in person. A federal judge in Maryland suspended that rule in July, in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the FDA.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang ruled in that case that because in-person visits increase the risk of contracting the disease, prescriptions must be accessible over the phone or via telehealth appointments, otherwise the barrier to access would otherwise "constitute irreparable harm."
"Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm," Chuang wrote.
Cruz's letter, however, calls the ruling an "opportunistic ploy," alleging that the court was hijacking the pandemic to wrongly expand access to abortion — despite the fact that abortion is a legal medical procedure and the right to access is protected by law.
Cruz is also arguing against the FDA's own data.
According to the agency, in the 18 years between Mifeprex's approval in 2000 and Dec. 31, 2018, the U.S. has recorded a total 24 deaths associated with the medicine — two of which involved ectopic pregnancies, which themselves can be deadly. As of 2016, about 2.75 million women have taken Mifeprex — that works out to less than one death per 100,000 women.
Working from statistical averages, more than 640 women would have died of pregnancy complications in 2018 alone.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN and New York Times contributor, pointed out to Cruz on Twitter that erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra are more dangerous than Mifeprex.