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Key abortion papers retracted

An American journal and publisher have retracted three papers about abortion, including one that was used in court cases to support the suspension of FDA approval for mifepristone, aka an “abortion pill”.

Sage, the publisher of Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology, announced the retractions this week and posted a retraction notice covering the three articles, reports Medscape.

For one of those articles, initially flagged by a reader, “an independent reviewer with expertise in statistical analyses evaluated the concerns and opined that the article’s presentation of the data in Figures 2 and 3 leads to an inaccurate conclusion and that the composition of the cohort studied has problems that could affect the article’s conclusions”, according to the notice.

The notice also said Sage “confirmed that all but one of the article’s authors had an affiliation with one or more of Charlotte Lozier Institute, Elliot Institute, and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, all pro-life advocacy organisations, despite having declared they had no conflicts of interest when they submitted the article for publication or in the article itself”.

One of the peer reviewers, Sage learned, “was affiliated with Charlotte Lozier Institute at the time of the review”, leading the publisher and journal editor to determine “the peer review for initial publication was unreliable”. That referee also reviewed the other two now-retracted papers, according to Sage.

James Studnicki, lead author of the three papers, told Retraction Watch the retractions were “a blatant attempt to discredit excellent research which is incongruent with a preferred abortion narrative”.

He told The Daily Wire, which was first to report on the retractions, the move was “completely unjustified”.

The Daily Wire notes: “The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in March on the legality of restricting the abortion pill based on Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s ruling, proceedings that will certainly be impacted by the retractions.”

Sage had subjected one of the papers to an expression of concern in August 2023, saying they were investigating “potential issues regarding the representation of data in the article and author conflicts of interest” after being alerted by a reader.

As News From The States reported then, the notice came after Chris Adkins, a professor at South University who teaches pharmaceutical sciences, raised concerns with Sage. As News From The States noted in August:

“Kacsmaryk leaned hard on a 2021 study that was designed, funded and produced by the research arm of one of the most powerful anti-abortion political groups in the US. The judge cited this paper – which looked at Medicaid patients’ visits to the emergency room within 30 days of having an abortion –to justify that a group of anti-abortion doctors and medical groups have legal standing to force the FDA to recall mifepristone.”

In a point-by-point response to Sage’s critiques of the paper sent to the publisher in November and now shared with Retraction Watch, Studnicki and colleagues pointed out they had noted their affiliations in the original manuscript and the then-proposed retractions “misrepresent ICMJE disclosure standards”, referring to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ guidelines. They also call some of the post-publication peer reviewers’ critiques “factually incorrect” and “unfounded”. They conclude:

• No single specific finding in any of the three papers has been explicitly challenged, let alone invalidated.
• There is no evidence of a major error, miscalculation, fabrication, or falsification.
• There is no breach of any of the COPE guidelines that could permit Sage to retract any of our published papers.
• The retraction of any of these papers, let alone all three, is demonstrably unwarranted.

Adkins told Retraction Watch he is “pleased the journal approached my concerns with legitimate and serious consideration”:

“It is reassuring that my initial concerns with the 2021 Studnicki et al article were verified and affirmed by other experts. Despite the length of time spanning my initial communications with the journal and today’s retractions, I understand that thorough investigations and re-review processes take time. Given that these now-retracted articles have been excessively cited by parties involved in ongoing federal judicial cases, now positioned before the SCOTUS, Sage’s retractions should help our courts remain informed by the highest standards and quality in scientific and medical evidence”.

Update, 2/6/24: We note that – contrary to best industry practices described by the Committee on Publication Ethics – Sage has removed the original versions of the articles. They are available at these links:

 

 

Medscape article – https://www.medscape.com/s/viewarticle/key-abortion-paper-retracted-2024a10002pi (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

US court upholds abortion pill access restrictions

 

US abortion pill duel intensifies

 

US AGs weigh in on court battle over access to abortion medicines

 

 

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