Doctors in at least a dozen countries, supported by US Christian Right activists, are providing women with a “dangerous” and controversial treatment that claims to “reverse” medical abortions, openDemocracy can reveal today.
Women’s health and rights activists have called for urgent investigation by authorities into these findings – which were described as “horrific” especially during the pandemic when it’s critical for people to trust healthcare providers.
openDemocracy undercover reporters on four continents contacted a hotline run by US Christian Right activists and were connected to doctors willing to prescribe so-called ‘abortion pill reversal’ by phone or email. Where hotline operators could not make connections to local doctors, they emailed reporters dosage instructions.
European and British parliamentarians called these activities “completely unacceptable” and “deeply worrying” and said they must be “shut down”.
So-called ‘abortion pill reversal’ (APR) treatment was invented by an anti-abortion doctor in California. The only trial into the ‘treatment’ was halted in 2019 after some participants were sent to hospital with severe haemorrhaging. The trial’s lead researcher said “It wasn’t safe for me to expose women to this treatment.”
No medical authorities in the countries in this investigation have approved or recommended this ‘treatment’, which involves taking high doses of progesterone, a hormone, following the first of two pills used for a medical (or medication) abortion.
Progesterone in itself is not a dangerous drug but there are concerns, including some from health authorities, about using it in this ‘treatment’. A UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesperson referred openDemocracy to the US study which it said showed that APR is “associated with a high risk of serious bleeding and consequently dangerous for women, as well as ineffective.”
In the US – where some conservative state governments have passed laws requiring that doctors inform women about this ‘treatment – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called these laws “based on unproven, unethical research” and “dangerous to women’s health”.
Medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions, have become increasingly common in some countries during COVID-19. Some governments have changed rules to make it easier for women to access these abortions via online appointments.
‘Abortion pill reversal’ proponents oppose such changes, suggesting that treatment provided online is risky, even though they provide theirs in a similar way.
In the UK, the doctor that the US-run hotline connected our reporter to responded to questions about possible health risks from ‘abortion pill reversal’ treatment, saying: “At the end of the day, you live in the UK, you’ve got a hospital there and if you were worried about the bleeding, you’d go get help.”
In South Africa, a doctor told our reporter to go to any pharmacy, get them to call him from there, and that he’d give the necessary prescription over the phone.
In Uruguay, a doctor told our reporter there is “no reason for fear” and that “there are studies” proving that this ‘treatment’ works, though it is not “standard practice”.
In Mexico, a doctor who described himself as an “APR volunteer” emailed our reporter a handwritten prescription including his medical licence number.Print