A largely unstudied procedure intended to reverse pill-induced abortions is again causing an uproar between pro-choice and pro-life health care providers.
Abortion-reversal therapy has flown largely under the radar for the last few years. The practice was created by a pro-life physician in San Diego in 2009, and has slowly spread to about 350 pregnancy centers nationwide. Now, it’s been approved as part of a higher education course for California nurses.
Proponents of the procedure believe that, If a woman changes her mind after taking her first abortion pill but before taking the second, which is needed to complete the procedure, doctors can inject her with progesterone to save the fetus.
There’s been very little scientific research on whether this actually works. The doctor who invented the procedure did find that it preserved pregnancy for most of his own patients. But it wasn’t a formal study, and major studies indicate that women who don’t take the second abortion pill often remain pregnant anyway, even without the progesterone shot.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautions against the untested procedure, and has voiced concerns about possible health risks.
Still, an Ohio-based clinic network called Heartbeat International has been teaching California nurses how to perform the treatment for several years. They’ve been approved as a provider with the California Board of Registered Nursing since 2012.
But until recently, the board had never looked specifically at the abortion-reversal course, according to Veronica Harms, spokesperson for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the nursing board.
She said it was approved because it met their standards. These are pretty basic: the course must be scientific, it must relate to the practice of nursing, and it must advance learning beyond the level required to get a license.
Upon hearing of the approval, UC San Francisco nurse Monica McLemore teamed up with national nonprofit Abortion Care Network to fight the decision. Her face is now on a series of billboards posted by the organization all over the Bay Area. They read, “Patients need medically accurate information, not politically motivated deception about abortion.”
McLemore said it’s time to push back against misinformation.
"There has been a lot of normalization about this procedure, without a real critique of the science that's behind it,” she said. “ I have seen billboards advertising directly to patients about reversing their abortions."
Abortion reversal seems to be gaining traction. Some states require physicians to inform women seeking abortions about the option.
The Board of Consumer Affairs will hold a meeting on February 15 to reassess its criteria for experimental treatments in nursing education.
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