In order to justify the crush of medically unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics in recent years, it’s become common for anti-choicers to pose as the protectors of women’s health. Considering how much more dangerous childbirth is than abortion, this has always been a farcical claim, but now it appears some anti-choice activists are taking it a step further and actively encouraging women to take what could be a very serious risk to their health. Elizabeth Kulze at Vocativ reports that a crisis pregnancy center in Iowa (called the Women’s Choice Center, one of the more obnoxious examples of anti-choice centers trying to trick you into thinking they provide abortion) is offering “abortion reversals” to women who are halfway through a medication abortion.
Medication abortions are typically done with two pill doses in the first 63 days of pregnancy. The first, a dose of mifepristone you take at the doctor’s office, blocks progesterone receptors and helps soften up the cervix and promote uterine contractions. The second pill, misoprostol, causes the uterus to expel its contents. Misoprostol can work on its own—many black-market abortion pills are just misoprostol—but, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, taking the mifepristone improves the likelihood of a safe, complete abortion.
“Abortion reversal” is a procedure—I hate to even use that word when it’s really more an experiment—in which progesterone is injected into a patient after she has taken mifepristone in an effort to reverse its effects. It was developed by an anti-abortion doctor named George Delgado. In 2012 in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, Delgado claimed to have injected progesterone into six women to reverse the effects of mifepristone, which resulted in four of those women giving birth. In a 2014 presentation to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, he claimed 30 more live births. But, outside of the 2012 paper about the six women, there’s no real information available on the safety or efficacy of this largely untested procedure.
Delgado’s website, Abortion Pill Reversal, doesn’t offer much in the way of helpful information either. The single “success story” is little more than one of those fables of Christian redemption for sinful behavior. “Rhonda and Gary were both 18, in love, and in college. Like many in our society, they did not think that having sex prior to marriage carried any consequences or could hurt them in any way,” it reads. After a swipe at contraception use and another swipe at the idea of letting young women make their own choices, you get the priest intervening and the young woman being saved from the dangers of sex and independent thinking, all through the power of a progesterone injection after taking mifepristone. “They had recommitted themselves to their faith and were now trusting that God would guide them every step of the way,” Delgado writes. Readers who are skeptical that having a baby at 18 with your first real boyfriend is the key to happiness may not be convinced. But that hasn’t stopped several other crisis pregnancy centers from directing visitors to their web sites to Delgado’s.
Looking for more information, I talked to Dr. Daniel Grossman, a vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health and a fellow at the ACOG, who sounded a note of caution about this procedure in a phone interview. In the “exceedingly rare” case in which a woman might take one pill and then decide she wants the pregnancy after all, there’s no research to show that progesterone shots will help her save it, he explained. Mifepristone “by itself is not an effective abortion regimen,” he said, and so many women who just take the first pill will not miscarry if they simply don’t take the second. If he had a patient who changed her mind halfway through, he explained, he would recommend doing nothing and monitoring the pregnancy to make sure it’s continuing normally.
Grossman says that the progesterone probably won’t hurt a woman if she’s under medical supervision, but he’s concerned that the advertising of this procedure could mislead the public about the prevalence of abortion regret. “In my experience caring for women seeking abortion, they don’t go into this lightly. They’re very clear about their decision usually when they walk into the clinic and especially after they’ve gotten counseling,” he told me, noting that research shows “regret after an abortion is really rare.”
Even the Women’s Choice Center director Vicki Tyler told Vocativ that, although they are offering the procedure, so far they have not performed any.