National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Op-ed lambasts medication abortion 'reversal' bill in Utah, other medically inaccurate abortion restrictions

Conservative lawmakers in Utah plan to propose a bill that would require providers to tell women seeking medication abortion that the procedure can be reversed, a claim without any scientific evidence, writes columnist Bethy Squires in an opinion piece for Broadly.

Medical experts refute medication abortion reversal claims

According to Squires, "The American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) ... [has] gone on record saying abortion reversal is an unproven and potentially dangerous procedure."

She explains that the medication abortion process involves two medications: mifepristone and misoprostol. George Delgado, the man who promulgated the "abortion reversal" theory, claimed in a six-person study to find that women who had taken mifepristone could take a large dose of progesterone to stop the medication abortion process with a success rate of 65 to 70 percent.

However, Squires cites ACOG research showing that pregnancy continues in 30 to 50 percent of women who take only the first medication in a medication abortion, meaning that "women who take the massive dose of progesterone after taking mifepristone are almost as likely to continue their pregnancy as women who just don't take misoprostol." She cites Cheryl Chastine, a provider who in an interview last year noted that because research shows "'mifepristone on its own is only about 50 percent effective at ending a pregnancy ... even if these doctors were to offer a large dose of purple Skittles, they'd appear to have "worked" to "save" the pregnancy about half the time.'"

Moreover, according to Squires, "[H]uge doses of progesterone can cause serious side effects," such as "[n]ausea, weight gain, breast tenderness, hair loss, and even blood clots."

Reversal bill among other medically inaccurate antiabortion-rights efforts

Squires writes that abortion-rights opponents frequently aim to curb "women's access to safe and legal abortion under the guise of women's safety, including requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges to hospitals or [have the same building standards as] ambulatory surgical centers." When it comes to reversal bills, she explains that abortion-rights opponents "say they want to give women all the available information to help them make the right choice," yet they are giving "information that isn't medically sound."

Squires quotes Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network, who said of the trend, "'Sadly this isn't the first time, especially on the state level, that medical procedures that are unproven or unnecessary were mandated.'" Squires writes, "According to Pearson, other areas of medicine are nowhere near as meddled with through state law, and especially not in such a way that forces doctors to give incorrect advice to their patients." Squires quotes Pearson as noting, "'The one place they do it is women's reproductive rights.'"

Squires outlines other forms of such "meddling," including mandates in 14 states that women seeking abortion care undergo transvaginal ultrasounds and a Texas requirement that women be told medically inaccurate information before receiving abortion care.

Squires writes, "At the center of the debate around abortion reversal is the widely-held belief that women can't make decisions over their own bodies," a claim that abortion-rights opponents "further perpetuate ... by disseminating incorrect information about reproductive healthcare and women's choices." For instance, the Abortion Pill Reversal website employs the "extremely misleading" tactic of posting testimonials from women who say they regret seeking abortion care. Squires cites research showing that among women seeking abortion care, those who are denied access are more likely to suffer psychological distress than those able to access it.

Pearson explains that abortion restrictions tend to "come in waves," as opponents switch out strategies as various tactics "fall out of favor as case law makes that strategy less plausible." Utah will be the fifth state to consider a medication abortion reversal law, Squires writes, noting that similar laws are in place in Arkansas and South Dakota, while "Louisiana lawmakers could not get their bill made into law, and Arizona repealed their version after Planned Parenthood took it to court." Pearson adds that while the Supreme Court's ruling in Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt "'took some strategies out of the [antiabortion-rights] playbook,'" opponents just swap tactics "'[w]hen one way forward is blocked.'"

Pearson expresses concern for the state of reproductive rights under the new administration, given President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of abortion-rights opponent Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of Health and Human Services. Citing the sweep of antiabortion-rights legislation following the 2010 elections, when conservative lawmakers took over many state legislatures, she says, "'I fear something similar is coming'" (Squires, Broadly, 12/16).