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Anti-Abortion Activists Are Now Trying to Weaponize Environmental Regulations

If you have an at-home medication abortion in early pregnancy, anti-abortion activists want you to have to dispose of the clots as medical waste.

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Dr Franz Theard performs a sonogram to confirm pregnancy on a patient seeking abortion services at the Women's Reproductive Clinic, which provides legal medication abortion services, in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, on June 15, 2022. - In the wake of Friday's ruling by the US Supreme Court striking down Roe v Wade and the federally protected right to an abortion, women from Texas and other states are traveling to clinics like the Women's Reproductive Health Clinic in New Mexico for legal abortion services under the state's more liberal laws. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP (Getty Images)

Now that they’re afraid of putting abortion on the ballot, anti-abortion groups are trying out a new strategy: They want to weaponize environmental regulations, like waste water restrictions, to limit at-home medication abortion, which has become the most common method of abortion in America.

Students for Life of America announced Wednesday that they have filed a citizens’ petition with the Food and Drug Administration to require abortion providers to dispose of any tissue a person produces after taking the pills. The group told Politico, which first reported on the new strategy, that it plans to sue if the FDA rejects or ignores its plea. Kristi Hamrick, the chief policy strategist of Students for Life, said the move is “the next innovation” in restricting abortion.

The group claims that at-home abortion with pills is an environmental hazard, because people flush fetal tissue down the toilet and traces of the pills could somehow make it into groundwater. If that sounds awful, remember that abortion pills are recommended through 12 weeks of pregnancy; an actual early stage pregnancy looks like a clump or clot that’s normally passed during menstruation; and miscarriages that people often mistake for a heavy period are flushed every day.

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Nathan Donley, the environmental health science director of the Center for Biological Diversity, derided the anti-abortion group’s strategy. “Pharmaceutical contamination of water is a serious issue that can have serious impacts on the environment, but trying to say that one drug out of thousands is having an outsized effect is based on ideology not evidence,” Donley told Politico. “Of all the drugs and synthetic chemicals we shed that can potentially contaminate water, abortifacients are a fraction of a fraction of a percent. It’s nothing.”

Students for Life is working to draft bills with this goal nationally, as well as in state legislatures in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Ohio. And while anti-abortion zealots may not be able to outlaw abortion pills, strict anti-abortion regulations that make abortion simply too difficult can have a chilling effect. It’s an updated version of TRAP laws, which impose medically unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics and that conservative judges have used to restrict abortion access.

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This isn’t the group’s first anti-abortion-pill rodeo, either. In 2020, the group sent a letter to the FDA asking it to “reexamine the environmental impact” of abortions “ending on toilets across America.”

This is yet another layer to anti-abortion groups attempts to restrict a wildly popular medical procedure. In September, following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a bill that would implement a national abortion ban at 15 weeks. Just last week, the anti-abortion group behind the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe filed a lawsuit to reverse the approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. Anti-abortion positions might be wildly unpopular, but the activists and legislators who want to eliminate bodily autonomy are not letting up anytime soon.

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It’s funny that after being absolutely bodied at the ballot box, anti-abortion activists are turning to the deranged new strategy of “collect the clots as you pass them.” But unfortunately, many of the most extreme anti-abortion positions (remember when conservative politicians rebranded six-week bans as “heartbeat bills”?) start out as absurdities that sound like jokes.