Abortion activists have repeatedly claimed that abortion pills are safer than Tylenol.
As far as I can tell, by that they mean that annually there are more ER visits related to Tylenol (acetaminophen toxicity) than to abortion pills. If more people each year are going to the ER because of Tylenol than because of abortion pills, abortion pills must be safer, right? (No, not right. Read on.)
Rates of ER visits
The above comparison ignores the fact that 60 million Americans take acetaminophen at least weekly, meaning there are at least 3.12 billion doses taken per year. There are an estimated 56,000 ER visits per year for acetaminophen toxicity, so out of 3.12 billion doses that’s a 0.002% ER visit rate.
How many women take abortion pills per year? Guttmacher estimates about 54% of abortions are done via pills, and documented 930,160 abortions in the U.S. in 2020, which would suggest roughly 502,000 abortions via pills in 2020. That means only 9 women in an entire year would need to go to the ER after taking abortion pills to get the same ER visit rate as the rate for acetaminophen.
But of course the number of women going to the ER because of abortion pills is much higher than that. This study found that 6% of such women went to ERs or urgent cares, an ER visit rate 3,000x higher than that for acetaminophen. Out of over 500,000 medication abortions, that would translate to over 30,120 women going to the ER or urgent care per year.
Rates of hospitalizations or serious complications
But an ER visit doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious problem. It’s possible someone would get scared, go to the ER to be safe, and learn that nothing is wrong. So instead let’s compare rates of actual hospitalization.
Acetaminophen toxicity involved 2,600 hospitalizations in a year. Out of 3.12 billion doses, that’s a hospitalization rate of 0.00008%. The abortion pill study found a “serious adverse event” rate of 0.9%, which included a hospitalization rate of 0.7%, or a hospitalization rate over 8,750x higher than the rate for acetaminophen. Out of over 500,000 medication abortions, that would translate to over 3,500 women who took abortion pills being hospitalized per year.
And these comparisons are all for acetaminophen toxicity, meaning people taking way more Tylenol than they are supposed to, compared to people taking the abortion pills as recommended.
None of this necessarily means that abortion pills are extremely dangerous. It depends on what we consider “dangerous” and what comparison group we’re using (e.g. they are more dangerous than Tylenol but perhaps they’re safer than cigarettes, which are also legal).
But unqualified characterizations of abortion pills as “extremely safe” warrant some suspicion. And claiming abortion pills are safer than Tylenol is just incorrect.