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  • Writer's pictureSherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Kansas abortion ‘coercion’ bill touted by out-of-state think tank that produced retracted research

Tessa Longbons Cox, a senior research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, testifies March 12, 2024, before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in support of legislation that would make it a crime to pressure someone into terminating a pregnancy. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature video.)


By Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — Legislation that would make abortion “coercion” a crime in Kansas is backed by testimony from an out-of-state think tank whose retracted research is central to legal efforts to ban the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide.


Tessa Longbons Cox, a senior research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, testified last week in support of House Bill 2813, which would create a felony crime for pressuring someone to terminate their pregnancy. Another researcher, responding to questions for this story, questioned the merits of a study Longbons Cox cited in her testimony.


The proposed legislation is part of an ongoing assault by GOP lawmakers on reproductive rights in Kansas in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s end — and flagrantly defies a statewide referendum on abortion in August 2022, when voters overwhelmingly supported a state constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee gave approval to the the bill Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on identical legislation, Senate Bill 527.


The Charlotte Lozier Institute is a nonprofit anti-abortion research firm based in Arlington, Virginia, and its work has been scrutinized for undisclosed conflicts of interest, flawed methodology and exaggerated conclusions.


The U.S. Supreme Court on March 26 will hear arguments in a lawsuit involving the institute’s researchers and their claims that mifepristone poses a health risk to women, even though it has been safely used to terminate more than 5 million pregnancies over the past two decades. The institute’s research on the topic was retracted in February by the journal that published it, following a review by independent public health experts who identified “fundamental problems” and “misleading presentations of the data.”


The institute has defended its findings and dismissed concerns as politically motivated.

Longbons Cox, who labeled her testimony as “neutral,” appeared by video to tell Kansas lawmakers why it was important to criminalize abortion coercion. She talked about her study of 200 women who had an abortion and how they felt about it.


In the study, 33% of women affirmed their decision to choose an abortion. In her testimony, she equated any other response with not wanting an abortion and, rounding up, said “close to 70% of women who had abortions did not want them.”


“Based on my professional opinion researching abortion and coercion, I believe this bill would provide important protections for pregnant women in Kansas,” Longbons Cox said in written testimony.


Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, asked what percentage of women felt coerced by an individual — as opposed to to financial or other pressures — into having an abortion. She said her study didn’t address that question.


The claims by Longbons Cox contradict findings from the seminal Turnaway Study, produced by the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. The study followed 1,000 women who sought an abortion from 30 facilities across the country for up to five years. Some were “turned away” because they were past the legal gestational limit.


The research found that receiving an abortion doesn’t harm the health and wellbeing of women, and 95% of women who received an abortion said they made the right decision. But being forced to give birth can negatively affect women’s health and finances, the study found.

Diana Greene Foster, a UCSF who led the Turnaway Study, said the study cited by Longbons Cox to support the abortion coercion law was problematic because it was retrospective.


Longbons Cox’s study asked women between the ages of 41 and 45 to reflect on their reproductive experiences.


“When researchers ask people to report on their lifetime history of abortion, they get a biased sample,” Foster said.


She said some people are unwilling to disclose a stigmatized experience. Others may attribute poor health outcomes to an abortion — for example, discredited research linked breast cancer to abortion.


“People who developed breast cancer are scanning their histories looking for potential causes,” Foster said. “People with no breast cancer don’t have the abortion top of mind.”

Foster is among a group of 17 health and science experts who have called for more studies on abortion to be retracted, including ones connected to the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


The U.S. Supreme Court could decide the future of a key abortion pill, mifepristone, more than a year after the nation’s highest court overturned Roe v. Wade allowing states to decide their own abortion laws and bans. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Longbons Cox, in response to an inquiry for this story, said the study she cited for Kansas lawmakers reflects women’s feelings about their abortion decisions.


“We stand by all our research,” she said. “We have been very clear in our defense of the studies that were retracted, especially considering the journal has advanced no valid objection to our findings and has shown no evidence of any major errors, miscalculations, or falsehoods. We encourage everyone to actually read our rebuttals to these baseless attacks. Science depends on open, robust inquiry and debate. It’s essential, and we are not afraid to publicly engage. In fact, we encourage readers who are interested to read our work for themselves.”


States Newsroom first reported last year that Sage, an academic publisher, had opened an investigation into research produced by the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


Sage announced Feb. 5 that it was retracting the studies in part because they the authors were affiliated with “pro-life advocacy organizations that explicitly support judicial action to restrict access to mifepristone.”


The research had been peer-reviewed by colleagues at the institute. An independent review of the work found “fundamental problems with the study design and methodology,” “unjustified or incorrect factual assumptions,” “material errors in the authors’ analysis of the data” and “misleading presentations of the data.”


In one study, researchers who included the Charlotte Lozier Institute’s vice president connected the abortion pill to subsequent emergency room visits, even though most of the visits weren’t abortion-related. They concluded that mifepristone is associated with increased morbidity.


Researchers from the Charlotte Lozier Institute then formed a nonprofit called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone in federal court. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which provides funding for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, represents the nonprofit and made key legal arguments based on the now-retracted research.


Kansas lawmakers have held hearings this year on legislation that would force women to have an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, give fertilized eggs legal rights and strip abortion patients of their right to privacy. Other bills have been introduced to ban all abortions, create a tax break for fetuses, place a bounty on women who terminate a pregnancy and the doctors who provide abortions, and deny liability insurance to abortion providers.


Last year, the Legislature’s assault on reproductive health rights included passage of a law requiring physicians to tell patients that effects of the abortion pill can be reversed, despite research showing the “reversal” was unsafe and ineffective.


Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a spokeswoman for Planed Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said health care providers trust their patients to make the right decisions, and legislators should do the same.


“Instead, lawmakers are relying on anti-abortion propaganda dressed up as ‘research’ to push bills that restrict a person’s right to access health care without government interference,” Simmons said. “This is the same tactic extreme lawmakers used last year when they cited a debunked study to pass the dangerous ‘abortion pill reversal’ law. Kansans have spoken loud and clear on this issue and the Legislature continues to ignore the will of those they claim to serve.”


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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