Can An Abortion Actually Be Reversed?

Arizona lawmakers think an abortion can be reversed. As per a bill passed this week, doctors will now be required to tell patients that, should they reconsider their abortion, they can come back in to get a “reversal” procedure after consuming the first pill in the two-pill process. But while the state of Arizona may support this abortion “reversal,” science certainly doesn’t. Abortions cannot be reversed, despite the Arizona law that requires doctors to say so.

In fact, critics of the bill say there is virtually no scientific evidence that an abortion can be reversed and that, moreover, the “reversal” procedure isn’t actually doing much of anything. In a medication abortion, a woman typically takes two pills — first one of mifepristone and then one of misoprostol. For the abortion to be completed, it is imperative that the women take both pills. The bill suggests that a woman, after taking the first pill, can receive a large dose of the hormone progesterone, which, in theory, would cancel out the dose of mifepristone, which blocks progesterone.

But here’s the caveat: Women who only take the first pill already have a 30 to 50 percent chance of continuing the pregnancy, The Atlantic reports. In a small study on the progesterone reversal technique, four out of the six patients’ pregnancies continued when they took the progesterone "reversal" pill after taking the first dose of the abortion medication. Those odds really aren’t much higher than when a woman simply opted out of taking the second pill.

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Moreover, the progesterone dose likely didn’t have much to do with the continuation of the pregnancies. Scientifically speaking, mifepristone — the first pill — has a much higher affinity to progesterone receptors than progesterone itself does. So, in order for the effects of the mifepristone to be mitigated by the addition of progesterone, the body would have to be filled with “toxic levels of progesterone,” NARAL Arizona board member Gabrielle Goodrick told RH Reality Check.

When a pregnancy continued after a woman underwent the “reversal” procedure, it was more likely due to the fact that the abortion process was interrupted and left incomplete, than because of the pill she took. Kansas abortion provider Cheryl Chastine told The Atlantic on the question of whether the “reversal” pill was actually doing anything:

Even if these doctors were to offer a large dose of purple Skittles, they’d appear to have "worked" to "save" the pregnancy about half the time.

While the Arizona bill does not actively deny or discourage a woman's right to abortion, it does require doctors to communicate to their patients information that is not factual. But according to Goodrick, in the 15 years she has run a clinic, she has only seen four patients second guess taking the second pill to complete the abortion. That statistic certainly seems to imply that when women make their decision, they tend to be sure about it. Bogus science isn’t likely to change that.

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