States Are Forcing Doctors to Promote Unproven and Unethical “Abortion Pill Reversal”

| Reproaction

By: Kylie Cheung

For decades, the anti-abortion movement has sustained itself with a foundation of dangerous, ever-growing lies. From claiming that life begins at conception and therefore women should lose bodily autonomy the moment of sexual activity, to the lie that their movement is about anything other than punishing and controlling women and pregnant people, their legislation and activism couldn’t be more removed from reality. As the times change, the anti-abortion movement is constantly adapting and developing newer, even more dangerous deceptions. And one of those is the unethical, unproven method of “abortion pill reversal.”

In response to growing use and awareness of medication abortion, which typically involves the two drugs called mifepristone and misoprostol to safely induce a miscarriage, anti-abortion extremists have developed a widely discredited procedure that purports to “reverse” abortion pills. Without evidence, they claim that it works like this: After a pregnant individual takes the first pill (mifepristone), which among other things blocks progesterone from reaching the pregnancy, the person can “reverse” the effects of mifepristone by not taking the second pill (misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract to safely remove fetal tissue from the body). They then claim that the individual must see a doctor and take large amounts of progesterone every day throughout the first trimester of pregnancy. There is no rigorous science behind this, nor has the method been scientifically tested. It’s just another wild idea meant to shame abortion.

The unethical experiment of abortion pill reversal started with one anti-abortion doctor’s decision to experiment on a woman with the progesterone treatment back in 2012, and the subsequent publication of his very-limited data gathered from a handful of women. This led to an unethical, inconclusive study of abortion pill reversal, upon which all of the talking points and dangerous legislative proposals of abortion reversal proponents are based. [1] Reproaction has written about the misogyny of the abortion pill “reversal” rhetoric, the problematic ethical implications of these studies, and the emotional damage they are designed to inflict.

Since 2015, the first year a state passed a law requiring medication abortion patients to receive so-called abortion pill reversal counseling, Arizona, Arkansas, Utah, and Idaho have all enacted similar laws. [2] These laws force abortion providers to give patients a politically motivated, medically unnecessary speech, eroding the trust between patient and provider that is fundamental to our health care system.

Unproven and unethical abortion reversal bills are being introduced and passing in state legislatures at alarming rates. Outside of the aforementioned states with mandatory, unscientific abortion pill reversal counseling laws, North Dakota’s Gov. Doug Burgum [3] and Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt signed abortion reversal counseling bills into law in March and April respectively, though both have yet to take effect. [4] Back in 2017, an abortion pill reversal bill almost passed out of Indiana’s state legislature. Earlier this year, Kansas’ legislature passed a bill that was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, and  Nebraska’s state legislature recently passed an experimental abortion pill reversal bill of its own, They just keep coming: In early May, Wisconsin’s state House Health Committee advanced an unethical abortion pill reversal bill to the House floor. [5] Within weeks, Ohio state senators introduced their own version of the bill. [6]

Unproven and unethical abortion reversal bills pose a significant threat to patients’ ability to access comprehensive, accurate information about their health care options, and make safe, well-informed decisions about their bodies, families, and lives. Some experts have also expressed concern about the safety of so-called abortion pill reversal. And at the end of the day, there is still no conclusive, proven connection between the progesterone treatment and sustaining a pregnancy after taking mifepristone.

Ultimately, misleading and endangering women and pregnant people aren’t the only goals of so-called abortion reversal’s proponents. The entire idea is meant to further stigmatize abortion, especially medication abortion, by advancing the myth that women “regret” their abortions, and thus want to seek to undo their supposed “mistakes.”

Those who oppose abortion rights and access see abortion as inherently shameful, and they can’t even fathom that many women — specifically, one in four — seek this care for a diverse variety of fully valid reasons. Whatever those reasons may be, 99 percent of abortion patients do not regret their decisions, per a 2015 study. [7]

While everyone may have different experiences with and feel differently about their abortion, it’s wrong and invasive for anti-abortion activists to universalize a few women’s experiences to advance regressive policy. Unproven and unethical abortion pill reversal laws pose a threat to abortion access, especially as medication abortion gains popularity among patients as well as those interested in self-managing their abortions outside of a medical setting. With abortion clinics shuttering across the country, full access to medication abortion, unobstructed by dangerous experimental abortion pill reversal rhetoric and laws, has never been more important.


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