explainer

The myth of "abortion reversal" landed three women in hospital.

The walls of George Delgado’s Family Health Care Clinic in California are plastered with stock images of women looking sad. Some of them are crying. Others just appear miserable.

One of those sad-looking women is accompanied by the text, “I wish I never did it”. Another reads, “I wish I could go back and change things.”

Delgado is a pro-life gynecologist.

And the women on his walls are meant to provide a glimpse into what life looks like for women who choose to have an abortion.

WATCH: Women share what it was like having abortions before they were legal. Post continues below. 

Delgado’s message, however, doesn’t stop there.

His website ‘Abortion Pill Reversal’ (which Mamamia has chosen not to link to in order to prevent the spread of irresponsible health information) asks in imposing capital letters: “REGRET TAKING THE ABORTION PILL?”

A woman covers her face in the background.

“IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE TO SAVE YOUR PREGNANCY,” his site reads, encouraging users to call their 24/7 hotline.

The site then boasts eight ‘success’ stories about women who were filled with “regret and guilt” and then learned a reversal process was possible.

“I have been given a second chance,” Maria writes, “and was gifted with a precious little girl.”

This isn’t, however, a bizarre and confusing message consigned to one doctor or one clinic in California.

In six US states including Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota and Virginia, which have a combined population of more than 14 million, doctors are required by law to tell patients that it is an option to change their minds about wanting an abortion.

Even after they’ve taken the abortion pill.

How does the abortion pill work?

The abortion pill (which you may have heard referred to as RU486 or a ‘medical’ abortion versus a surgical one) actually refers to two different pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, used to end a pregnancy. The abortion pill is used to end a pregnancy during the first 10 weeks of gestation.

First, you take a pill called mifepristone, which blocks the hormone progesterone responsible for the development of the foetus.

Either right away, or up to 48 hours later, you then take the second pill called misoprostol, which acts to prepare your cervix and essentially induce labour.

What is ‘abortion pill reversal’?

The myth goes, that if a woman takes mifepristone, followed by a dose of progesterone, then her termination could be effectively ‘reversed’.

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According to Delgado’s website, a doctor or medical provider can prescribe you progesterone, which can be taken as a pill orally, vaginally or by intramuscular injection.

The website also claims that Abortion Pill Reversal has a success rate of 64-68 per cent – a statistic which has been widely criticised by medical professionals as inaccurate, misleading and “bogus science”.

So, can abortion actually be reversed?

In short, no.

In a statement sent to Mamamia, Marie Stopes Australia’s Deputy Medical Director, Dr Catriona Melville, said “so called ‘abortion reversals’ have no basis in scientific research and do not meet clinical standards.”

According to Dr Melville, the study being widely quoted in bills was “not part of a rigorous clinical trial and was withdrawn from publication last year as it never received appropriate ethics approval”.

A new study led by Mitchell Creinin, a professor at the University of California, was announced earlier this year, with the purpose of finding out whether abortion reversal is indeed possible.

“It just doesn’t make any physiological sense,” Creinin told Vice News, and so he has made it his mission to find out the definitive answer.

The test that went horribly wrong

The team found 40 pregnant women who had scheduled themselves in for surgical abortions. Each participant was to be given a dosage of mifepristone followed by a course of progesterone or a placebo.

The trial, however, was cut short when three women (one who had taken the progesterone, two who had ingested the placebo) were rushed to hospital as a result of severe haemorrhaging. One woman required a blood transfusion.

Speaking to The Cut Dr Creinin said, “I did not expect women to bleed like this. That’s why we stopped the study. I couldn’t continue to enroll women and put them at the same kind of risk.”

Are there many women who actually want to reverse their abortions?

Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the pro-choice group Trust Women, said in a statement, “Women are capable of making complex decisions about their health care and lives without unnecessary interference from anti-choice lawmakers.”

The decision to have an abortion is not one women take lightly.

How an embryo sued an abortion clinic. Post continues below. 

An analysis of Google trends reveals that women are not googling terms related to undoing or reversing abortions. Rather, they’re desperate to learn how and where to undergo an abortion safely, and what to expect in the aftermath.

Of the top 25 terms relating to abortion, none edge towards the territory of reversal.

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Gynecologist Ilana Addis puts it best in an interview with The Atlantic,“There is no science to support this. These women would be unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs.”

Women’s bodies, simply, are not – and must not be used as –  a political plaything.

Anti-choice activists have long protested outside abortion clinics.

But now, they’ve made their way inside, inserting their politics into what must always remain a private space: The doctor’s office.

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