Unproven and Unethical ‘Abortion Pill Reversal’ Strategy Rests on Old Anti-Abortion Politics

| Reproaction

By: Cinnamon Williams and Shireen Shakouri

Opponents to abortion have taken a number of steps over the years to improve their image in the public eye. Realizing their true selves aren’t palatable to the mainstream, they don’t often show their violent, uninformed, bigoted nature overtly. They name anti-abortion fake clinics things like, “options” and “choices.” They say banning abortion is feminist because half of fetuses are of the female sex. [1] They co-opt Black Lives Matter and other racial justice slogans. Their talking points are framed in language that makes them seem progressive and even pro-woman, when in reality, everything perfectly aligns with their agenda to close ranks around restricting abortion access and reinforcing stigma. More importantly, these tactics serve to distract people from the fact that the programs and services offered by abortion opponents on the right are not actually expanding the options or improving healthcare for people facing pregnancy. [2]

One tactic they’re growing more and more fond of is making up their own science to justify their hatred of abortion. This comes into play with the “abortion pill reversal” myth and its creator, Dr. George Delgado. He recently expanded research of this unproven theory and presented new data that uses the results of 754 women tested [3], as opposed to his previous study which included only six. [4] Regardless, the consensus of major medical research bodies is that neither study was properly designed in a way that the results could be trusted for standardized use on patients, and in some ways amounts to unethical medical experimentation. [3, 5] Adjusting the parameters of the study does nothing to solve these fundamental problems in his research.

As part of the campaign to legitimize his findings, Delgado has also been garnering support from doctors, clinicians, policymakers, and politicians. Already, five states [6] have passed laws requiring abortion clinics to give patients information about “reversing” the effects of medication abortion, meaning politicians are putting measures into law that are unproven and increase shame around abortion care. Even further, making this unreliable information mandatory in a clinical setting could force some people into continuing pregnancies that they do not want because the information manipulates the range of complex emotions they may be feeling regarding the procedure, or because of pressures from someone else to remain pregnant. Time and time again, Delgado and his supporters have shown that creating these kinds of coercive and manipulative medical environments is more important than creating environments that make women feel safe and supported in any of their reproductive decisions. Ultimately, Delgado and his peers are using science as part of a misogynistic political agenda to increase their control over women’s bodies. And when they’re called out? They cry censorship. [7]

It was recently announced that the Abortion Pill Reversal Network will now be managed by Heartbeat International, the world’s largest network of anti-abortion fake clinics. [8] It is not clear why the hotline is transitioning management, but we can assume it will gain resources and support of an extensive, well-funded, and litigious network. Heartbeat International, who literally wrote the book on how fake clinics can shame and deceive people seeking abortion information, is no stranger to distorting science: Through their “Heartbeat Academy” classes for fake clinic operators, they offer courses on “Abortion and Suicide,” “Abortion and Pre-term Birth,” and “Abortifacient Effects of Oral Contraceptives,” all of which are premises that have been roundly debunked. [9, 10]

It is unsettling that these unethical medical pursuits are presented in language that makes them seem progressive, even feminist. In a recent interview with Vice News Tonight, a reporter asked Delgado why he thought his unproven theory had detractors, to which he sneered, “Maybe they feel that people should not have a second chance at choice. Maybe they’re not as much about choice as they say they are.” [11] He’s not the only one using this language either, throwing the idea of being “pro-choice” in the faces of reproductive rights advocates. [12]

Our opponents are constantly trying to reshape the public’s perception of who they are and what they do. Abortion pill “reversal” is a bit different from the tactics we have seen in the past, but its core goal remains the same as most anti-abortion propaganda: shrinking access to abortion through the bastardization of science and promotion of stigma. As long as that misogynistic value remains intact, no experimental study, management transition, program, service, or shift in language can ever reinvent their image.


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