“We do help hundreds of women every day in the UK,” said a tired-sounding American woman who spoke to an openDemocracy undercover reporter in the middle of her night. “We’re like the international abortion pill reversal line.”
So-called ‘abortion pill reversal’ (APR) treatment was invented by a controversial anti-abortion doctor in California. It prescribes high doses of progesterone, a hormone, after the first of two pills used for medical abortions.
A US study into APR was cancelled in 2019 after some participants went to hospital with severe haemorrhaging. The lead researcher, Mitchell D Creinin, said it was stopped because “It wasn’t safe for me to expose women to this treatment.”
But anti-abortion groups have continued to promote it in the US and around the world – including in the UK, apparently under the radar of regulators. APR’s proponents claim at least 60 women in the UK requested it in the first half of 2020.
Our reporter called a 24-hour hotline run by a US group called Heartbeat International – and advertised in the UK by the Society for Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) – and was quickly connected to a local doctor for the ‘treatment’.
She posed as a pregnant woman who had begun a medical abortion, having taken the first pill, and was told by this doctor that the ‘reversal’ treatment is safe and effective – despite the lack of medical evidence to prove this.
“I am shocked that this is taking place in the UK,” said Labour MP Nadia Whittome in response to openDemocacy’s findings. “Women should not be used as guinea pigs by anti-abortion activists. The hotline needs to be shut down immediately.”
“It is completely unacceptable,” added Munira Wilson, MP and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health and social care. “Regulators must investigate this as a matter of urgency and put a stop to this harmful practice.”
‘Surging’ during COVID-19
During the pandemic, women in the UK have been allowed to have medical abortions at home with remote appointments. A government consultation on whether to make this permanent closed at the end of February.
Meanwhile, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which is a UK anti-abortion group, says the APR network’s 24/7 helpline has “surged with emergency calls amidst [the] coronavirus lockdown”. Its website also claims that this US-based network “includes UK based doctors”.
Shortly after our reporter called this hotline, she was emailed a ‘consent form’ stating that APR is an “off-label use of progesterone” and she should “seek emergency medical care immediately” if she feels pain.Print