Analysis

Not medical theater, but reality: Why abortion reversal angers abortion backers

pregnant-ultrasound-fetus

For people who claim to advocate for choice, informed consent is key. If abortion is to be legal, then logically there should be no objection to women being informed about all of their options, about the details of their baby’s development, and about the procedure they are about to undergo.

Women should never be lied to or pressured into having an abortion, yet it happens with alarming regularity. So it makes sense for laws to be passed ensuring women are given accurate information — otherwise, how can a woman truly obtain informed consent? The latest instance of this is a new bill introduced in Arizona, in which abortionists will be required to tell women that a chemical abortion could be reversible.

Naturally, this has the pro-abortion lobby furious.

Planned Parenthood calls the idea of abortion reversal dangerous and simply outrageous. Arizona state representative Victoria Steele called it quack medicine. Arizona Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs called it junk science. And over at Slate, Amanda Marcotte sneered at the idea, claiming that it is “quackery” used by pro-lifers in order to add more stress to an already stressful situation:

Proponents of “abortion reversal” would like you to believe it’s common for women to take the first dose and become racked with guilt, desperate to save her pregnancy. To help these women, Delgado gives the woman progesterone shots, supposedly in an effort to reverse the effects of the mifepristone.

The problem is it’s almost certainly quackery. Mifepristone is not enough on its own to terminate a pregnancy some of the time, so you’re not “reversing” the abortion so much as interrupting the process before it’s complete. The progesterone shots reverse nothing—they are medically unnecessary theater, designed to portray anti-choicers as conquering heroes rescuing pregnant maidens from the clutches of abortionists. There’s no evidence of much demand from women to interrupt their abortions, and in the rare circumstances that someone is seized by regret, all she needs to do is contact her regular doctor about stopping the pills.

Forcing doctors to “inform” patients about an intervention that isn’t medically useful and isn’t really in demand serves no other purpose but to inject anti-choice histrionics into what is already a stressful situation for many patients. You should be able to get through an abortion without having to indulge a right-wing delusion.

The simple fact is that women can and do regret their abortions. It is certainly not a universal response to having an abortion, but it’s wrong to pretend that it never happens simply because it’s inconvenient to the pro-abortion movement. Even more inconvenient is the fact that abortion reversal actually is not “quackery,” but a legitimate medical procedure.

Dr. Karen Poehailos is a board-certified family physician. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Virginia, and has been practicing for over 22 years. She is also a Certified FertilityCare Medical Consultant who provides NaPro technology services. “After I took the medical consultant course in Omaha for Creighton through NaPro, I started carrying progesterone in my office for women threatening miscarriage in early pregnancy,” she recalled. “When I heard about this protocol, it was a very easy step to call and ask to be on this list because I’m already comfortable giving progesterone.” And she has already treated one patient successfully.

Krystal West began to regret her decision to have an abortion a few hours after taking the mifepristone pill, and so she began to see if there was a way to save her baby’s life. She came upon abortionpillreversal.com, which got her in touch with Poehailos. They were able to begin the progesterone treatment within about 24 hours, and ultimately, it was successful. “She’s about 12 weeks pregnant now, and we don’t have any reason to suspect she’ll have anything other than a healthy pregnancy,” Poehailos said.

But are Marcotte and the pro-abortion lobby right? Is this just medical theater designed to make pro-life doctors look good? Will the baby survive anyway if the woman simply doesn’t take the second pill?

“First you have to understand how the pill itself works,” Poehailos explained. “It’s a two-step process; the first is mifepristone, and it is an antagonist of progesterone. So it blocks progesterone from getting to the placenta, or it tries to. If you block it, and the progesterone can’t get there, the placenta will begin to break down, and that’s what leads to the death of the baby. It doesn’t actually attack the baby; it’s basically starving the baby out by attacking the placenta. And then 48 hours later, if the abortion hasn’t already been completed, she would take the second pill, which is the misoprostol, which would induce labor to expel the placenta and the baby. Then she is supposed to go back in two weeks to ensure that it was complete.”

So while the mifepristone may not cause the woman to undergo a spontaneous abortion, in most cases, it will lead to a dead baby. The woman’s body may or may not expel the baby on its own. Marcotte’s assertion that a woman would simply have to not take the second pill to avoid the abortion is scientifically inaccurate, and considering where she got her information, that’s not surprising.

Marcotte’s source for her claim that the baby would be fine if the woman just didn’t take the misoprostol is RH Reality Check, with an article written by Robin Marty. Marty does not quote any scientific material, but instead uses as her source a woman named Gabrielle Goodrick. Goodrick is hardly an unbiased source — she is an abortionist who previously worked for Planned Parenthood before opening her own practice, and is a member-at-large of the board for NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona. Goodrick was quoted spouting some questionable facts of her own:

“The first tablet, mifepristone, alone, can be up to 60 percent effective in ending the pregnancy, so 40 percent would continue,” Goodrick told RH Reality Check. “The whole idea of flooding the body with progesterone—Mifeprex has an eight times higher affinity for the receptors than real progesterone, so you’d probably have to flood them with toxic levels of progesterone to even make an effect, which again is hypothetical. There is no medical data or any legitimate studies done to show this is effective.”

Dr. Poehailos is skeptical of these claims. “40% would continue with what?” she asked. “It depends on how you’re defining the pregnancy. Yeah, if you give just the mifepristone alone, they’re not going to spontaneously expel the baby, not all of them. But they’re still going to have a dead baby. I couldn’t find a study to show that it’s only 60% effective; it may only be 60% effective at completing the abortion on its own without using the misoprostol.” Poehailos also is skeptical about the idea of “progesterone toxicity”, something that the pro-abortion advocates seemingly made up. “There is no such thing as progesterone toxicity or progesterone overdose,” she said. “The body normally makes it anyway, and yes, we’re making the level very high for a few days while we’re doing it, but there are no documented cases of there being any kind of problem so far.”

But how is it that the progesterone shots counteract the mifepristone? “What we’re doing is giving a lot of progesterone to compete with the mifepristone receptors in the uterus. We try to send in more progesterone in so it out-competes the mifepristone. The patient I worked with had very good levels of progesterone to begin with, so that worked in her favor,” Poehailos explained. And despite the claims that mifepristone alone simply wouldn’t do anything or cause the death of the baby, with Poehailos’ patient, the pill had already begun to take effect in the short time it took between West taking the mifepristone and getting to Poehailos. “The first ultrasound showed an area of hemorrhage inside the placenta, and she did have some bleeding, but the ultrasound showed the baby was alive,” she said. “Over the next couple of shots through the next couple of days, that area disappeared. The progesterone was able to counteract the mifepristone and allow the placenta to heal itself. I think if we hadn’t given her that… well, she may not have completed the abortion on her own, but she was bleeding and the placenta was breaking down, and we saw it on the ultrasound. It wasn’t medical theater; it was reality.”

Poehailos does acknowledge that this procedure is still experimental. But, she points out, all medicine starts out that way. Goodrick slammed the idea of abortion reversal because there is no study, but that is because, as Poehailos explained, the study is ongoing. “The data is being collected for the study right now. The paper that was put out in 2012 reported 7 cases; we’re now over 200,” she said. “So yes, there is a demand for it. And as the cases get to completed babies, and we get to statistical strength, we’ll be able to publish on it. No one is trying to hide anything. It’s like anything new, it needs to be studied. Dialysis was at one point experimental. All medicine was. At this point this is, but that doesn’t make it wrong.” So far, the babies born after their mothers underwent the procedure have had no birth defects.

The interesting thing is seeing how ardently pro-abortion activists are fighting the idea of abortion reversal. Marcotte speaks of trusting the decisions women make as consenting adults, but are women not allowed to change their minds?

Are their choices only to be supported as long as it’s viewed as the “right” choice by Marcotte and her pro-abortion ilk? Marcotte tries to argue that it is insulting to a woman’s intelligence to insinuate that she might regret an abortion, but women can and do regret their abortions. Some regret it immediately, others don’t feel regret or guilt for years, and still others never feel any negative emotions towards the abortion at all. Are we only to give legitimacy to the latter set of women? Apparently, women’s choices are only valid if Marcotte approves of them, and they fall in line with what the abortion industry demands of them.

And whether Marcotte wants to admit it or not, there clearly are women out there who do want this treatment, considering that over 200 women so far have undergone it. How many more would do so if they knew such a thing were possible? The Arizona bill, which Marcotte and her pro-abortion advocates are so fiercely against, is nothing more than information. If this was really about being “pro-choice,” and not about forwarding abortion, then there wouldn’t be any controversy here.

“It’s just information. It’s neutral,” Poehailos agreed. “It says if you do this and you change your mind, here’s a way to help. It’s not saying you’re evil if you have an abortion, but that if you change your mind, here’s a number you can call. That’s informed consent, in my opinion. I don’t think it should be politically charged. It’s just information.” And while Marcotte sneers at and degrades doctors like Poehailos as fakers trying to make themselves into pro-life warriors, that’s not the case for Poehailos. “We’re not a bunch of warriors here. I don’t think of myself as a warrior,” she laughed. “I viewed it as somebody that made a decision and regretted that decision, and I wanted to be able to help her undo that decision — nothing warrior, nothing heroic.

The heroic person here is my patient who called the hotline and went through the process to attempt to save her baby. It’s part of being ‘pro-choice’. Any woman who changes her mind, we’ve got a 60% chance of helping her undo a decision she regrets, and I think anyone would support that. All we’re trying to do is help her with her choice.”

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