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Warwick Police looking for owners of 2 loose dogs | ABC6

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Warwick Police looking for owners of 2 loose dogs | ABC6


WARWICK, R.I. (WLNE) — The Warwick Police Department is looking for the owners of two loose boxers.

The department said the dogs were found in the area of Wildes Corner.

Police added that they have secured one dog, but the other is still being searched for.

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AP calls race for Trump as soon as polls close in S.C. – Rhode Island Current

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AP calls race for Trump as soon as polls close in S.C. – Rhode Island Current


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former President Donald Trump won an expected blowout victory over former S.C. governor Nikki Haley Saturday in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

The Associated Press called the race at 7 p.m. with zero percent of the precincts reporting.

With 17% of the ballots counted, Trump had 55.9% of the votes to Haley’s 43.6%.

“This is a little sooner than we anticipated and “an even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump said as he took the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” He told supporters who had been gathering at the fairgrounds in Columbia all day, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes and then we have to get back to work.”

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Trump was joined on stage by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham. Graham, who spoke briefly, was booed by the crowd while a Trump mention of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as “a very noncontroversial person” brought cheers and chants of “Gaetz, Gaetz, Gaetz.”

Trump was on stage for about 30 minutes and stuck to his usual talking points — the situation on the border is “the worst it’s ever been” and the country “is a failing nation.” He predicted that Michigan autoworkers would support him in that state’s primary on Tuesday.

He added “Nov. 5 – it’s going to be the most important date, perhaps, in the history of our country” before thanking his supporters and telling them to go home and get some rest because “we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain issued a statement on the results, saying: “The stage for November has been set and the choices South Carolinians will have at the voting booth are becoming clear. Voters have seen what’s at stake: Donald Trump is running to ban abortion nationwide, end the Affordable Care Act, and gut Social Security and Medicare — all while pulling apart the fabric of our democracy.

“Three weeks ago, a diverse coalition of Black voters, rural voters, Medicare recipients, college students, teachers, service members and veterans overwhelmingly showed up to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and they’re ready to do it at the ballot box once again so they can continue delivering record accomplishments for South Carolina.”

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About 131,000 voters cast ballots in the state’s Democratic primary earlier this month. Because voters in South Carolina do not register by party, any registered voter in the state who did not vote in the Democratic primary was eligible to cast a ballot in the GOP primary. SC GOP Party Chairman Drew McKissick said earlier Saturday that he expected the state would set voting records. According to the Election Commission, 205,099 people voted early in the primary and 12,018 people had cast absentee ballots ahead of Saturday.

‘She’ll have her time’

The former president also made international news during his visits to South Carolina, including saying he told the head of a NATO ally he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if they did not meet defense spending goals.

Messages like that rang true for Andrew Middleton, a 40-year-old IT network engineer in Charleston, who said he wants a president who will keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and focus on a domestic agenda. Middleton, who grew up in rural Illinois but has lived in the Charleston area for 12 years now, pushed his young son in a stroller as he walked out of West Ashley High School in the Lowcountry after casting his ballot for Trump.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s administration, attacked the former president over his comments, and President Joe Biden said the remarks were “shameful” and “dangerous.”

Trump’s comments, however, did not lessen enthusiasm for the former president at the polls.

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“If anybody can get things straightened out quickly, it’ll be him,” said Charleston-area voter Amy Coffey.

Saturday marked the first time the 48-year-old office administrator had cast a ballot in a primary. She said the current presidential race felt “crucial” to her and Malcolm Coffey, a 49-year-old electrician, prompting them to come out.

Both cast ballots for Trump, citing border security as the top issue concerning them.

“It’s not that I don’t like Nikki Haley,” Amy Coffey said. “ I just don’t think now is the perfect time to bring someone new in. She’ll have her time.”

Former S.C. Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley casts her ballot in the South Carolina Republican primary on Feb. 24, 2024 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Haley has been careful to manage expectations for her results in South Carolina, saying victory would be “making sure it looks close” rather than winning outright.

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“All I can do is my part; I don’t know if it will make a difference or not,” said Colleen Geis, a 48-year-old medical care coordinator living in the Charleston area who voted for the perceived long-shot Haley.

While Haley cast her own ballot on gated Kiawah Island, Geis was among a steady stream of James Island residents who stepped into the polling place at Harbor View Elementary.

Some living in the surrounding neighborhood used the opportunity to walk their dogs as they fulfilled their civic duty.

“Anybody but Trump,” said Lauren May, a 32-year-old doctor’s assistant, after casting her vote.

Haley also earned the support of Mark Leon. The 51-year-old marketing consultant said 2016 was a difficult year. It was the first time he saw people become emotional and angry over politics. It was the first time he saw lifelong friendships end based on who they voted for.

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“It’s only going to get worse this year because it’s the same players,” Leon said of a Trump-Biden faceoff.

He felt if Haley were chosen as the Republican nominee, she would bring more empathy to the race rather than instantly polarizing an issue.

On Tuesday, Haley gave a defiant speech in Greenville where she reiterated that she plans to stay in the race until Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states will vote.

“I feel no need to kiss the ring,” she said in that speech. “And I have no fear of Trump’s retribution. I’m not looking for anything from him.”

Haley is the last major candidate opposing Trump, but two extreme long-shot candidates remain in the running — Pastor Ryan Binkley of Texas and veteran Air Force combat pilot David Stuckenberg of Florida.

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Three other candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all dropped out of the race after making it onto the South Carolina ballot.

This story will be updated.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. SC Daily Gazette maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seanna Adcox for questions: [email protected]. Follow SC Daily Gazette on Facebook and Twitter.

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Rhode Island’s Marijuana Industry Is Stepping Up Its Political Savvy With More Campaign Donations To Politicians

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Rhode Island’s Marijuana Industry Is Stepping Up Its Political Savvy With More Campaign Donations To Politicians


“You never know when there is going to be a year where big decisions are made and you want to be able to talk to these people and express your point of view.”

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

Spencer Blier was expelled from his first college for smoking weed, then spent the next decade as a perpetual University of Rhode Island student while growing marijuana for state medical patients in his on-campus log cabin.

Not a promising start, but the 35-year-old Warwick native and cannabis cultivator ended 2023 with the third-highest sales among the state’s 60 licensed growers: $2.2 million, according to information from the Rhode Island Office of Cannabis Regulation.

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As his company, Mammoth Inc., blossomed, so did Blier’s political savvy.

He donated $1,000 apiece to the campaigns of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi (D) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) in the fall of 2023, according to state campaign finance reports. Blier is not expecting major law changes this year, as the nascent industry scored major wins, including expansion to recreational use, with a 115-page bill passed in 2022.

“Just letting them know we’re here,” Blier said of his recent campaign contributions. “You never know when there is going to be a year where big decisions are made and you want to be able to talk to these people and express your point of view.”

But he’s still pretty green when it comes to the political scene.

Just ask him if he and other Rhode Island cannabis business owners might ever form a Political Action Committee, or PAC, to leverage power in numbers for bigger campaign donations. PACs, like individual donors, can give up to $2,000 to a single candidate each year according to state law (updated in 2024) but also have a special $25,000 aggregate donation cap per year.

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“I don’t even know what a PAC is,” Blier said.

But after growing frustrated with government red tape stymying their businesses, he and other cultivators are starting to realize the necessity of winning friends and influencing people on Smith Hill—attending fundraising dinners, donating to campaigns and hiring lobbyists to represent their interests to lawmakers.

The Rhode Island Cannabis Act passed in May 2022 laid out a major expansion into recreational sales and use, along with advertising abilities and 24 new pot shop licenses. But almost two years later, cultivators are still waiting to see written law become reality.

The law created a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee implementation and regulation, but the three-member panel didn’t meet until June 2023. The commission is still in discussion mode, with input from an 11-member Cannabis Advisory Board, and expects to finalize rules and regulations this year, said Matt Touchette, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, which includes the Office of Cannabis Regulation.

Two dozen pending retail licenses cannot be doled out until rules are finalized.

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“It’s moving in the right direction, but it’s taken a while,” said Jeff Padwa, a lobbyist who represents Sensible Cultivators for Intelligent Reform (SCIR), a group of 10 local cultivators, including Mammoth.

Regulatory delays squeeze cultivators

There are five dozen licensed cannabis growers in the state but only seven retailers, which limits profits as well as the tax revenue flowing into state coffers from cannabis sales, Padwa said.

“Based on the population of adults who consume, we would assume we would be in the $200 million, but it’s still in the $100 million range,” Padwa said, referring to 2023 cannabis sales, both recreational and medical, reported by state.

SCIR paid Padwa $15,000 for lobbying activity in 2021, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s lobby tracker. In 2022, Padwa received $5,000 for his lobbying efforts on behalf of cultivators, and in 2023, $60,000.

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Part of the reason for the increased payments—and presence—is simply that cultivators have more cash than they used to, Blier said. Like other cultivators, he struggled to get his Warwick business off the ground.

“The first five years, it was like, every couple of months, are we going to stay in business?” Blier recalled.

He started his cultivation business just as the state began issuing licenses to cultivators to grow medical marijuana in 2017. Seven years later, his 5,000-square-foot growing lab is stocked with more than 700 plants and flowers, with a 12-person full-time staff.

Blier estimated spending $1,300 a month on lobbying through Padwa, though the cost fluctuates depending on how many other cultivators are pitching in for SCIR’s State House presence.

Padwa said many of the other licensees are not actively growing and selling their products. Touchette in an email confirmed that all licensed cultivators listed online were operational, as required for the regular license renewal process.

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There’s also a separate cultivator group, the Rhode Island Cultivator Industry Association, though it’s unclear how many cultivators are members. Armando Lusi, association president and a member of the Cannabis Advisory Board, did not return multiple calls and emails for comment.

State lobbying data shows no records of lobbyists to represent the Cultivator Industry Association over the last five years.

SCIR co-founder Peter Kasabian, who owns LOUD, a Warwick cultivation center, said that even though there’s no formal association for all 60 cultivators, many in the industry share ideas and strategies informally. Kasabian also tries to recruit other growers to join the group, though some don’t seem interested.

“They don’t want to get involved in politics, which I completely understand and respect,” Kasabian said.

He’s hardly a politics junkie. His frustration is audible, as he laments the time spent driving to the State House, searching for parking with “no good food” around, only for a moment of rubbing elbows with lawmakers.

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“I shouldn’t need to be there,” he said. “I am a small business owner, not a politician.”

Yet Kasabian keeps going, and/or paying Padwa to go, and forking over money to top elected officials. He donated $1,000 apiece to Ruggerio and Gov. Dan McKee (D) in November, plus a $1,000 contribution to Shekarchi in September.

“It was out of desperation,” he said of the donations. “We asked for stores and the governor gave us a pile of bureaucrats. It’s laughable.”

Compassion centers had head start

Longer-established compassion centers, which were able to start serving patients in 2013, appear to have more power and deeper pockets.

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One example: their fight to win advertising rights. The 2022 law left advertising rules up to the Cannabis Control Commission, which prevented retailers and growers from marketing their wares even as Massachusetts competitors dotted state highways with their own billboards.

One dispensary, Pawtucket’s Mother Earth Wellness, defied the rules, unfurling ads for its retail store along I-95 in the spring of 2023. By June 2023, lawmakers agreed to let the state Department of Business Regulation come up with some interim rules to let pot shops advertise. Cultivators, however, are still waiting for the formal regulations from the Cannabis Control Commission.

Rep. Scott Slater, a Providence Democrat who sponsored the 2023 legislation to let dispensaries advertise, said he was unaware when drafting the bill that cultivators would be excluded.

He introduced new legislation earlier this month to fix that. If approved, it would let cannabis cultivators advertise during the transitional period before final regulations are adopted.

Slater acknowledged the competing interests between cultivators and dispensaries.

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According to Padwa, their different priorities are the reason, in part, where there’s no single trade group or association.

“I would suspect if you ask the compassion centers and hybrid retailers, they might say they would prefer not to have additional stores because it’s less competition,” Padwa said.

“For Rhode Island, it would not surprise me if we ever have a cannabis association with participants from all aspects of the industry. And it wouldn’t surprise me if we never have a PAC.”


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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Rhode Island Current contacted business leaders and lobbyists for all seven compassion centers in Rhode Island, asking about their spending at the State House and influence with lawmakers. Most did not return multiple calls and emails for comment.

Chris Reilly, a lobbyist paid by Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, offered an emailed response.

“We have remained active in the legislative and policy debate on many issues over the years and continue to monitor all legislative and regulatory proposals that could impact our business, our customers, and our patients,” Reilly said. “Every year we see proposals on everything from patient access, regulatory mandates, taxation, and fees. It is essential that we stay engaged on all matters related to this industry, especially since we operate in a highly competitive regional cannabis marketplace.”

Slater has spent more than $340,000 on lobbyists, including Reilly, from 2020 to 2023, according to the state lobby tracker. The company reported $25.3 million in sales in 2023, the second-highest among retailers, according to the Office of Cannabis Regulation.

Another one of the original compassion centers, Greenleaf Medical Compassion Center in Portsmouth, paid former state senator and lobbyist Stephen Alves more than $270,000 from 2019 to 2022 for lobbying on its behalf. Greenleaf has not paid Alves for lobbying since January 2023.

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According to Alves, the company decided it no longer needed a lobbying presence at the State House. Greenleaf did not return calls for comment.

Power in numbers

A unified organization would also share lobbying costs. That’s a practical reason why many other industries in Rhode Island from hospitals to small businesses have formed trade groups, said John Marion, executive director for Common Cause Rhode Island.

“It doesn’t make sense for each hospital in Rhode Island to have its own lobbyist, but a hospital association makes sense,” he said.

Cannabis business owners and employees donated more than $20,000 to McKee, Ruggerio and Shekarchi’s campaigns combined in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to campaign finance reports.

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Among them was Stuart Procter. The co-founder and lab director for cannabis testing facility PureVita Labs donated $500 to McKee in the fourth quarter of 2023. Procter, who also serves on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board, said he donated the money through a fundraising event for McKee at Spain Restaurant in Cranston in December. Procter attended with PureVita co-founder and CEO Dr. Jason Iannuccilli, a radiologist

“No one expects that $500 or $1,000 is going to move the needle, but it was a good opportunity to go as a group and present a conversation with somebody who has the influence to effect change,” Iannuccili said.

Iannuccilli has made campaign contributions in prior years, including to McKee, but not in 2023, according to campaign finance reports. He acknowledges the interwoven relationship between politics and pot, but doesn’t think lobbying or campaign donations should determine Rhode Island’s cannabis fate.

“These decisions should not be influenced by lobbying, they should be based on data,” he said.

Data like how many people are using marijuana for recreational or medical purposes, health and safety concerns around cannabis products, and what other states out in front of the marijuana plume have done—both right and wrong.

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“There’s no example state you can point to and say, ‘They are doing it perfectly,’” Iannuccilli said. “But by looking at the mistakes of the ones that have gone before us, we can try to learn and do things differently.”

Cannabis businesses in other states have similarly struggled to unite under a single organization, said Aaron Smith, cofounder and CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

“It could be divergent viewpoints in policy, or sometimes it’s just personality and ego,” Smith said.

In Smith’s eyes, it would behoove business owners to set those egos aside and find common ground. Indeed, the united front—and pooled pockets—of the association’s 500 member businesses have been critical to making the industry’s voice heard on Capitol Hill.

“It’s important more than ever that small business operators have a voice,” Smith said. “There are a ton of issues facing lawmakers. If there isn’t a concerted effort to advance our agenda, it will never happen.”

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The association spent $150,000 on lobbying in D.C. in the last year, down significantly from the $500,000 annual spend in years prior, which Smith said was due to economic constraints facing the industry and its member businesses.

Mike Trainor, a spokesperson for McKee’s campaign, declined to comment on McKee’s campaign contributions or relationships to cannabis business owners. In a nod to the industry, McKee’s fiscal 2025 budget proposal decouples state tax code from federal policy so that cannabis businesses can deduct expenses from their state income tax filings, mirroring practices in 10 other states including Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In a joint emailed statement, Shekarchi and Ruggerio said, “The cannabis industry is a new and growing sector of our economy, and it is heavily regulated. They are treated no differently than any other advocacy group. We comply with all aspects of the campaign finance laws.”

This story was first published by Rhode Island Current. 

Rhode Island Marijuana Retailers Hit $100 Million Milestone During First Year Of Adult-Use Sales

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Retracted studies the latest in a decadeslong abortion-science fight  – Rhode Island Current

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Retracted studies the latest in a decadeslong abortion-science fight  – Rhode Island Current


The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 26 in the case challenging federal approval of the abortion pill, mifepristone. (Getty Images)

Chris Adkins is worried.

The Georgia pharmaceutical sciences professor who sparked an investigation into scientific studies that led to recent news-making retractions is worried about the “appropriate legal action” researchers have vaguely told media outlets they’re pursuing.

But even more than being sued, Adkins is worried it might be too late to correct the scientific record about a key abortion drug in a high-stakes legal case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Because before the three studies produced by an anti-abortion think tank were probed and determined to have “fundamental problems with the study design and methodology,” two of them were directly cited by a federal judge in ruling the plaintiffs had legal standing in seeking to strip mifepristone of federal approval. And now the anti-abortion researchers have claimed the retractions are a result of pro-abortion politics while downplaying their own significant roles in the consequential case.

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“The main concern is that now, instead of focusing on the science, it’s going to be contorted and twisted as a political maneuver,” Adkins told States Newsroom in a phone interview. “I don’t mind my name being thrown out there. … But my initial concern was driven purely by the issues I had with the very science and the communication of that science.”

On Feb. 5, academic publisher Sage Journals announced it was retracting three of Charlotte Lozier Institute’s studies about abortion published in the journal “Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology” between 2019 and 2022. Among them was research that questioned the safety of mifepristone, a commonly used abortion and miscarriage medication. The reasons Sage cited included undeclared conflicts of interest involving several of the papers’ authors, who had an affiliation with “pro-life advocacy organizations that explicitly support judicial action to restrict access to mifepristone.” Some of the authors are plaintiffs or expert witnesses in the lawsuit.

While Adkins and California-based epidemiologist and reproductive health expert Ushma Upadhyay work to publish a scientific examination of the now-retracted research and the Supreme Court hearing looms large, experts say the nation’s highest court is unlikely to give serious consideration to the exposed ambiguities in a decision that could have repercussions beyond reproductive health care.

The main concern is that now, instead of focusing on the science, it’s going to be contorted and twisted as a political maneuver.

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– Chris Adkins, associate professor and director of assessment at South University School of Pharmacy* in Savannah, Georgia

From the beginning, reproductive health, pharmaceutical, and legal experts have warned that an outcome in favor of the anti-abortion medical groups and doctors who sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2022 could limit access to mifepristone with a decadeslong record of safety and efficacy — and upend federal drug policy in the process.

“The failure to routinely engage in rigorous vetting processes undermines the integrity of our judicial system and raises concerns about our federal courts’ ability to appraise scientific and medical evidence presented in their courtrooms,” Adkins told States Newsroom in a follow-up written statement.

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The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the nonprofit research arm of the anti-abortion powerhouse Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, employs scholars who for decades have produced research used to defend anti-abortion laws. That work included the 2021 article that U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk cited as evidence that plaintiffs had standing to sue and was published exactly one year before they filed suit in Amarillo, Texas, one of the most conservative federal district courts in the country. A couple months before filing the lawsuit, they registered a nonprofit called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which became the lead plaintiff in the case. The principal officer of the Alliance, according to the Internal Revenue Service, is Dr. Donna Harrison, an OB-GYN and the recently retired CEO of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG), which is also a plaintiff. Additionally, Harrison is one of the authors of three retracted studies.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute scholars have vigorously defended their research, while downplaying their significant roles in the FDA lawsuit.

“What happened to us has little or nothing to do with real science; it has everything to do with political assassination of good science,” said James Studnicki, Charlotte Lozier vice president and director of data analytics, in a video uploaded to a website the group recently launched to challenge the retractions. Studnicki was the lead author of the three retracted studies and an expert witness for the three red states that tried to intervene in the lawsuit alongside plaintiffs. The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied Missouri, Kansas, and Idaho’s motion to intervene.

Studnicki and Charlotte Lozier Institute senior research associate Tessa Longbons told States Newsroom in a written statement that this is a “baseless ideological attack” and that Sage has never “identified a single substantive objection to the studies.”

Meanwhile they maintain that the Supreme Court can overturn FDA policy on mifepristone on the basis of their work.

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“The Supreme Court can rely on our findings,” Studnicki recently told Science magazine.

Experts also have said they don’t believe the retractions will affect the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision.

“There’s been a lot of people who’ve been criticizing the science used [by plaintiffs] as junk science. And I think this is just further proof that it’s junk science,” Drexel University law professor and reproductive rights advocate David Cohen told States Newsroom. “That being said, I think that the judges will find a way to support the view that they feel like they want to reason towards, and two studies disappearing is not going to change that.”

Serious flaws were found in a 2021 paper that links the medication mifepristone to more emergency room visits. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty images)

A case that hinges on science

It took about four years before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone in 2000 as part of a two-drug abortion regimen for first-trimester abortions: The mifepristone is taken first to block the hormone progesterone, followed by the ulcer medication misoprostol which causes the uterus to contract. After nearly two decades of data showing the regimen has a high rate of efficacy and a low rate of serious adverse events, the federal agency lowered the dosage and loosened restrictions.

But the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine asked federal courts to order the FDA to revoke its approval of mifepristone, or at minimum roll back more recent changes authorizing its availability via telemedicine and at pharmacies.

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The case began with an initial victory for plaintiffs in district court, when Kacsmaryk ruled to suspend mifepristone’s FDA approval. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the full drug suspension, but upheld the lower court decision to reinstate outdated restrictions. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case March 26.

Going back to the pre-2016 regimen in practice would mean shortening the gestational window the drug can be used, from 10 to seven weeks. It would require three in-clinic appointments and prohibit telemedicine and pharmacy dispensation. The old regimen also calls for a higher dose of mifepristone, which goes against current recommended guidelines.

Reproductive health experts say these FDA rollbacks would limit access to even more people, now that abortion is banned or heavily restricted in nearly half the country.

As States Newsroom has previously reported, the plaintiffs’ submitted evidence that mifepristone is a high-risk drug includes a small number of studies produced by a small anti-abortion medical community, along with anecdotes by the doctor plaintiffs. Defendants, in contrast, have submitted hundreds of studies.

Adding to this pool of research is a brand-new study in “Nature Medicine,” co-authored by Upadhyay, an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, which found a low rate of serious abortion-related adverse events for patients who took medication abortion via telemedicine.

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But none of that has stopped the plaintiffs’ legal team, the powerful Christian right Alliance Defending Freedom (a funding source for the Charlotte Lozier Institute and co-plaintiff AAPLOG), from asserting publicly and in court that mifepristone is dangerous. One of the plaintiffs’ key claims that stems directly from the 2021 paper is that emergency room visits within 30 days following a medication abortion increased 500% from 2002 to 2015.

In this study, researchers looked at Medicaid data in 17 states between 1999 and 2015. They tracked patients who had had a procedural or a medication abortion and counted each time they went to an emergency department in the 30 days following those abortions.

Upadhyay said among her main concerns with the 2021 paper is that the researchers inflated their findings, and appear to conflate all emergency department visits with adverse events. She said they lumped in people going in for just observation to make sure bleeding is normal with people who needed significant intervention.

“A national study found more than 50% of ER visits after abortion involve observational care only — indicating that an adverse event did not occur. But even a visit that involves an aspiration procedure to treat retained products of conception after an abortion is not considered a true complication. It is expected that about 3-5% of people who have a medication abortion will require an additional procedure to complete the abortion,” Upadhyay told States Newsroom in a follow-up written statement. “Studnicki et al. sensationalize and obfuscate the growth in ER visits after medication abortion. The authors downplay that their data demonstrates the vast majority of postabortion ER visits were not abortion-related (based on ICD-9 codes) and abortion-related ER visits were uncommon.”

The Charlotte Lozier authors defended their study design in a rebuttal to Sage, and argued that abortion complications are typically underreported. “The ER visit can be for any number of complications and is, therefore, a broad proxy indicator for abortion-related morbidity,” they wrote.

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Adkins said also problematic was how the authors communicated their findings, ultimately concluding “mifepristone abortion is consistently and progressively associated with increased morbidity.”

“You know, scientists, we get so enrapt, and enveloped in our work, that we forget that the very language we use to describe our work is sometimes foreign to others,” Adkins said. “We have a duty to communicate our findings in a way that is accurate, honest, and can be interpreted by all. That’s difficult. And I think that the Studnicki articles, I think there are portions of it that take advantage of that to generate misinterpretation, and that is then turned around and used to fuel these lawsuits.”

Based on Adkins’ concerns, Sage re-examined the peer review process and found that one of the initial peer reviewers was an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The publisher then enlisted a statistician and two reproductive health experts to newly peer review the Charlotte Lozier articles.

“Following Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines, we made this decision with the journal’s editor because of undeclared conflicts of interest and after expert reviewers found that the studies demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors’ conclusions,” reads Sage’s public note on the retractions.

As part of their rebuttal to the retractions, the Charlotte Lozier team has said the process is double-blind, so the researchers couldn’t have known who the peer reviewer was.

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Studnicki was on the journal’s editorial board until last fall, but the journal’s editor-in-chief dismissed him after the journal and Sage decided to retract the papers.

“The editorial board members at HSRME (Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology) act as ambassadors of the journal and in turn, of the Publisher to help uphold the highest standards of quality and integrity in scholarly publishing,” Dr. Gregory M. Garrison wrote Studnicki in an email dated Nov. 14, 2023, and shared by Charlotte Lozier. “In light of the decision to retract three research articles where you are an author, I believe that your term as editorial board member must now come to an end.”

The Charlotte Lozier team has insisted the retraction of their research is based on politics rather than science. But research experts say retraction is a high bar to clear, and journals are reluctant to retract in fear of lawsuits.

Ivan Oransky, who teaches medical journalism at New York University and co-founded the blog Retraction Watch, told States Newsroom that retractions are slightly on the rise because of the rise of fraudulent paper mills. But he said a lot of mediocre science goes under the radar unless someone brings it to the attention of the journal.

“There are an awful lot of other papers that should also probably be retracted,” Oransky said. “If you were to hold all papers to the same actual standards, far more would be retracted.”

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Pharmaceutical professor Chris Adkins and epidemiologist and reproductive health expert Ushma Upadhyay are working to publish a scientific examination of the now-retracted research used to challenge federal approval of the abortion medication mifepristone. (Courtesy Chris Adkins)

Conflicts of interest 

In their Assault on Science website, the Charlotte Lozier team refers to Adkins, an associate professor and director of assessment at South University School of Pharmacy* in Savannah, Georgia, as someone who “supports abortion.”

As Adkins told States Newsroom last year, the fall of Roe v. Wade on his birthday coupled with a baby on the way made him more concerned about reproductive rights. But the once conservative Texan said he had never formally advocated for abortion access. In his spare time, he reads FDA news, which is how he eventually fell down a rabbit hole trying to understand how this research was produced and whether it was ideologically biased. After reaching out to the journal and publisher, Adkins started consulting with reproductive health experts and earlier this year was invited to sign onto an amicus brief filed in the FDA case, of over 300 reproductive health researchers, defending the science behind mifepristone. Adkins maintains that his major issue in this case is the lack of quality in the science used by plaintiffs.

“My decision to notify Sage was prompted following a federal district judge’s citation of the 2021 article, wherein language was used that was inconsistent and inaccurate relative to the cited work,” Adkins told States Newsroom. “I believe it is both a professional obligation and a right to bring attention to legitimate concerns within scientific and medical literature; this practice is not ‘activism’ — instead, it is the self-correcting feature of scientific progress.”

The Charlotte Lozier researchers have objected to a larger accusation of an ideological conflict of interest, arguing that many authors of reproductive health articles that have been published in Sage journals also advocate for abortion access.

But Sage defended its retraction decision.

“Investigations are often initiated from readers’ complaints, as was the case in this matter regarding an issue of the presentation of data, and in the course of the investigation the undisclosed conflicts of interest became glaring,” Sage attorney Ronni Sander wrote to Charlotte Lozier attorney David A. Shaneyfelt in a letter dated Nov. 21, 2023, published on the Assault on Science website. “However, the substantive findings by the reviewers were most significant in the determination that retraction of the articles was necessary under COPE … guidance.”

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Upadhyay says she agrees that most authors, including herself, are biased toward certain policy outcomes but are called as scientists to follow the science rather than their biases.

“As a health-care researcher, I have an interest in expanding access to abortion, because I believe abortion is healthcare,” Upadhyay said. “So everyone is going to come to a question with their own set of beliefs. … For me, the conflict of interest is more about the fact that Studnicki was on the editorial board and that the peer reviewers [it was only one peer reviewer, according to Sage] were from the same institution. And most importantly, that they can approach the research question with scientific integrity … that they acknowledge their bias but they still stick to scientific rigor. And that they did not do.”

And while the authors did declare that they were affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, they did not disclose the extent several of them are directly involved in the mifepristone lawsuit. Or that they received funding from the law firm suing the FDA.

The Alliance Defending Freedom in 2021 donated more than $27,000 to the Charlotte Lozier Institute and $25,000 to AAPLOG. Among the Charlotte Lozier’s “core activities” reported in its 2022 tax filing include producing white papers and studies cited in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade and in post-Roe cases since: “After the Court’s ruling in June 2022, CLI provided expert commentary and information in media and policy forums across the nation, contributing to the restoration of protective laws in place before the 1973 Supreme Court rulings in Roe and Doe.”

The filing also specifically references the research published in their 2021 paper: “Leveraging millions of data points from Medicaid claims data, Charlotte Lozier Institute scholars identified a dramatic spike in abortion pill related emergency room visits.”

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Influence of the retracted science

Upadhyay says that even if the retractions ultimately have no legal impact on the case, they matter.

“There’s a court of public opinion,” Upadhyay told States Newsroom. “If the public is made aware that this article was retracted and yet this article is part of the reason the plaintiffs have standing, I think that it will become even more clear that the ultimate decision the Supreme Court makes, if they do rule against access to mifepristone, it will become more clear that that decision was not based in science. So I still think it’s important that it was retracted before the deliberation.”

Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom have said the retractions should have no bearing on the case.

“ADF has never relied on these studies for the issues that are currently before the Supreme Court,” ADF Senior Counsel Erik Baptist told States Newsroom in a written statement. “So this will not have any impact on the court’s consideration.”

However, ADF cited the research frequently to make its claims that mifepristone is a risky drug. “The number of chemical abortion-related emergency room visits increased by over five hundred percent between 2002 and 2015,” reads an ADF primer on the case. “Women can face severe bleeding and life-threatening infections — requiring emergency medical treatment, surgeries, blood transfusions, and hysterectomies — as well as the inability to have future successful pregnancies.”

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Kacsmaryk in turn cited the 2021 paper to argue plaintiffs’ standing “because they allege adverse events from chemical drugs can overwhelm the medical system.” He cited the 2022 paper using the same dataset in affirming plaintiffs’ claims that loosening FDA regulations has led to “‘many intense side effects’ and ‘significant complications requiring medical attention.’” The 2022 paper was cited just one day after the reactions in a brief filed by the intervening states.

The researchers themselves claim they have been influential.

“Sage is targeting us because we have been successful for a long period of time,” Studnicki says in his video uploaded to the Charlotte Lozier’s Assault on Science website. “These findings have been used in a legal action in many of the states. We have become visible. People are quoting us, and for that reason we are dangerous. And for that reason, they want to cancel our work.”

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