The concept of abortion reversal first arose within the national conversation of abortion rights around 2012 when George Delgado, an anti-abortion doctor in California, released a highly questionable medical study. In the study of only six women, each received hormonal injections to supposedly stop their medical abortion before it was complete. Since then, extremist lawmakers have used this study to push legislation requiring abortion providers to tell patients about abortion reversal even though the the procedure is neither supported by peer-reviewed science nor ethically sound.
A medical abortion is completed by the administration of two hormones: mifepristone, which is meant to stop the pregnancy from continuing and softens the cervix, and misoprostol, which induces contractions and empties the uterus. Abortion reversal claims to work by injecting a hormone called progesterone into a pregnant person in order to supposedly cancel the effects of the mifepristone and continue the person’s pregnancy.
Anti-abortion advocates and lawmakers insist that abortion reversal should be offered to any pregnant person seeking a medical abortion; however, offering this procedure is extremely problematic. Studies supporting this procedure are not backed by an institutional review board or ethical review committee, raising concern for the protection of human subjects in these hormonal experiments. Mifepristone alone does not terminate pregnancies - in fact, as many as half of women who take only mifepristone continue their pregnancies. Therefore, there is no data to support that the injection of progesterone is what is “reversing” abortions. Forcing doctors to share this information supports the narrative that people often regret their abortion, which is not the reality.
Politicians should not mandate physicians tell their patients about unproven, potentially inaccurate forms of treatment with the guise of “helping” people, when really they are focused on furthering their own radically anti-science and anti-reproductive health political agenda.
Abortion “Reversal” is Unethical
The anti-abortion movement’s push for abortion reversal to be tested on pregnant people is clearly disregarding human dignity and using these individuals as test subjects to further their agenda. Delgado’s experiments were not monitored or approved by any outside sources or committees. Participants in the study were not properly informed that the procedure of abortion reversal is still in its very early, experimental stages.
According to Vox.com, the procedure is being offered across the nation in crisis pregnancy centers, fake clinics often run by religious or ideological groups and not medical professionals. They promote abortion reversal as a “novel treatment” just as described by Delgado himself. People who visit these fake clinics are told this is a safe option since no other alternative exists.
Fake clinics have a history of manipulating patients into decisions based on their own anti-abortion agenda, but this takes it too far and puts people’s health at risk.
Abortion “Reversal” is Inaccurate
There is no correlational data to support that progesterone can actually continue a pregnancy after the first pill in a medical abortion is ingested. Delgado’s initial experiment in 2012 only included results from six pregnant people; this is too small of a sample size to draw any realistic conclusions. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also noted that mifepristone on its own does not always work to end a pregnancy, with up to half of patients who take mifepristone alone remaining pregnant. Vox.com states, “That’s why mifepristone is prescribed with misoprostol to complete an abortion. So it’s possible that Delgado’s patients who remained pregnant would have done so regardless of whether they received progesterone.”
Delgado’s second experiments in 2018 tested the effects of progesterone on 547 pregnant people desiring a reversal of their medical abortion. While the rate of continued pregnancies in this round of experiments was as high as 64% with the injection of progesterone, Delgado’s research design has been questioned as the source of such high success rates for continued pregnancies in his patients. In some cases, progesterone was only prescribed to the pregnant person if an ultrasound proved that mifepristone already did not stop the pregnancy. Therefore, conclusions cannot be drawn from this data either since some of the 547 pregnant people may have remained pregnant without Delgado’s procedure by not completing the medical abortion entirely.
Abortion “Reversal” is Dangerous
Anti-abortion politicians are risking the lives of pregnant people and causing more confusion by insisting abortion reversal be offered as a viable form of treatment. There is currently no data on the safety of ingesting or injecting progesterone into the body of a pregnant person after they have taken mifepristone, and some researchers worry that combining the two hormones could cause birth defects in continued pregnancies.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis conducted a study of abortion reversal that met scientific and ethical standards but were forced to halt the study after several study participants were rushed to the hospital for severe bleeding. Researchers conducting the study are unsure if this bleeding was a result of the presence of progesterone or the incomplete medical abortion procedure.
“It’s not that medical abortion is dangerous,” Mitchell Creinin, an OB-GYN and the study’s lead researcher, told NPR. “It’s not completing the regimen, and encouraging women, leading them to believe that not finishing the regimen is safe. That’s really dangerous.”
Politicians further complicate the decision of getting an abortion for pregnant people by promoting abortion reversal as an reliable option if they change their mind. Most individuals are confident in their decision to have an abortion - one recent study found that, on average, abortion patients were as or more sure of their decision to have an abortion than people facing other medical procedures, such as knee surgery.
Implementing abortion reversal laws may give the wrong impression to pregnant people that they can simply reverse their medical abortion if they decide not to follow through with it.
These laws may lead to more regretted abortions and encourage pregnant people to become test subjects in a medical procedure created to promote anti-abortion ideology.
If you are seeking an abortion, you deserve access to reliable providers and the resources to avoid crisis pregnancy centers. If you want to learn more about medical abortion, visit Planned Parenthood’s website.