South Dakota Now Mandates "Abortion Reversal"

by Lauren Barbato

Anti-abortion foes may be the most creative politicians out there. Legislation that directly targets abortion providers, burdening them to the point that they're forced to close their own clinics, has been the policy du jour for most state political leaders, but the crusade against abortion has recently taken a bizarre turn. Anti-abortion politicians are increasingly bringing junk science into the legislative arena, including the medically dubious procedure to "reverse" a medication-induced abortion. South Dakota signed into law an "abortion reversal" measure on March 29, adding another restriction on abortion in a state that's already one of the most hostile places for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

South Dakota's new law aims to beef up its "informed consent" guidelines, amending the information relayed to patients prior to an abortion procedure. The measure stipulates that "consent to an abortion is not voluntary and informed" unless an abortion provider tells their patients that "even after a pregnant mother takes Mifepristone it is still possible to discontinue a drug-induced abortion by not taking the prescribed Misoprostol." The law adds that information about stopping a medication-induced abortion can be found on the state's Department of Health website.

Also under the informed consent provision, physicians must tell their patients that "abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being; that the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota; and that by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated."

According to the bill text, the patient will receive all this information in writing at least two hours before the procedure. South Dakota already mandates a 72-hour waiting period before abortion procedures; the waiting period does not include weekends or holidays.

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The South Dakota Department of Health website does not yet include information on how a patient can safely and effectively discontinue a drug-induced abortion after the first part of the two-part process has already begun. (Interesting enough, the state's health department lists its information on abortion under "abortion alternatives.) However, reproductive health advocates worry that South Dakota may be alluding to the so-called "abortion reversal" pill, a new kind of medicine promoted by the San Diego-based nonprofit Culture of Life Family Services. The pill was developed by noted anti-abortion physician Dr. George Delgado, who currently serves as the medical director of Culture of Life Family Health Care.

Delgado and Culture of Life Family Services claim that a drug-induced abortion can be "reversed" during the 24-hour window between the first dose of the abortion pill, mifepristone, and the second dose, which comes in the form of misoprostol. The latter pill is known to create the contractions that fully expel the fetus from the uterus.

The Culture of Life Family Services claims the abortion reversal pill inundates the patient with a dosage of progesterone, which the organization believes will counteract the dosage of mifepristone. The Culture of Life Family Services website states:

Have you taken the first dose of the ABORTION PILL, MIFEPRISTONE (Mifeprex or RU-486)? Do you regret your decision and wish you could reverse the effects of the abortion pill? We are waiting to help you! There is an effective process for reversing the abortion pill, called ABORTION PILL REVERSAL, so call today! Call us right now, so we can talk with you and offer you help.

Basically, a woman would be discontinuing a medication abortion, not reversing it. But most doctors claim this so-called "abortion reversal" process is junk science that is not medically sound nor safe. In a fact sheet released in 2015, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists declared that claims of "medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence." According to ACOG, there are "no reliable research studies to prove that any treatment reverses the effects of mifepristone."

It's important to note that Delgado based his research on his own 2012 study of just six women. Out of those six patients who sought to "reverse" their abortions, four were successful.

ACOG added in its statement that in 30 to 50 percent of women, taking mifepristone alone won't cause an abortion, so not intervening in the medication abortion process will likely have the same effect as taking progesterone. And, ACOG doctors claim, dosages of progesterone may lead to serious cardiovascular, nervous system and endocrine adverse reactions in patients.

Arizona was the first state to pass legislation mandating informed consent guidelines on "abortion reversal." However, the law has been blocked by a federal judge after the state couldn't provide any credible source to testify in court. Physicians in Arizona have come out against the law, arguing that it would force doctors to push faulty medical research and science on their patients.South Dakota already has some of the most stringent restrictions on abortion in the United States. Patients must wait 72 hours after receiving in-person state-mandated counseling designed to discourage women from having abortions. Health insurance plans offered through the state marketplace under the Affordable Care Act are barred from covering abortion in most cases. A 20-week abortion ban was also signed into law in March, under the pretense that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy — a claim that ACOG also dismisses. The state only has one abortion clinic, located in Sioux Falls. According to the Guttmacher Institute, just 600 abortions were performed in South Dakota in 2011.