On the face of it, the idea that an abortion might be “reversible” is a hard thing for people to get their heads around, and that’s probably because it’s not really a very accurate phrase. It is, of course, impossible to reverse an abortion once one has happened. You cannot recreate a life that has been destroyed, whether it’s a plant, a chicken, an adult, or an unborn child. “Reversal” is probably the wrong word.
What’s actually being discussed is the idea that a medical abortion can be stopped once it has started, but before it has been completed. Here’s what the Irish Independent’s newly hired campaigning journalist (though she’s only ever actually campaigned on one subject) Ellen Coyne has to say about the apparent awfulness of this procedure:
In Ireland, a termination under 12 weeks’ gestation can be done by taking two drugs, misoprostol and mifepristone.
Anti-abortion activists claim that taking progesterone after the first pill can reverse a termination.
In the US, a number of states have a legal requirement for doctors to tell women about “abortion reversal”.
A medical abortion works, incidentally, by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is critical for maintaining a pregnancy. Without it, the lining of the womb breaks down, and then the second drug is taken to cause the body to expel what is left after that has happened. By taking progesterone, some doctors say, and by not taking the second pill, an abortion can be stopped in its tracks. Indeed, even pro-choice advocates note that simply by not taking the second pill, as many as half of all women would see the pregnancy continue. If you don’t believe us biased pro-lifers at Gript, there’s a fairly comprehensive (and pro-choice leaning) summary of the whole thing here at America’s public radio broadcaster, NPR.
The HSE, of course, says that there’s no such thing, which is an absolute falsehood. Here’s the quote they gave Coyne, in full:
“A spokeswoman for the HSE said “there is no such thing as ‘abortion reversal'”.
“Failure to continue, having taken the first medication, may result in miscarriage and a healthy outcome cannot be guaranteed. It is not a reliable medical practice,” the spokeswoman added.”
It’s fairly obvious that once you consume any drug intended to destroy the unborn child that “a healthy outcome cannot be guaranteed”. That is, almost by definition, an argument against nothing, because nobody has ever claimed that a healthy outcome can be guaranteed. The quote is also obviously a contradiction in its own terms, because “there is no such thing” and “a healthy outcome cannot be guaranteed” is a contradiction in terms. “It is not a reliable medical practice” is another misleading statement, because obviously it’s not reliable – a drug has been taken that is causing tremendous damage to the foetus, and it is not always going to be possible to reverse that damage. It is of course the case that sometimes this whole thing results in children being born who were damaged by the process.
But the damage wasn’t caused by the so-called “abortion reversal” – it was caused by the attempted abortion.
It would of course be awful and unforgivable if any doctor were to give a woman who decided to “reverse” her abortion false hope. The simple facts of the matter are that a medical abortion is designed to starve the unborn child of nutrients and then to induce the body to expel it. Once you’ve started that process, the only thing you can really do is stop the process. You can’t reverse any damage that has already been done. Sometimes it will be too late, and the body will expel the destroyed pregnancy anyway. The notion that pro-life doctors are lying to women about this, or giving them false hope, is absurd on its face.
What’s far more interesting is why this subject triggers pro-choice activists, like Coyne, to the extent it does?
We’re told, relentlessly, that abortion is a choice. It’s very rarely presented as a difficult choice. “My Body, My Choice” is a lot snappier and happier than “My Body, my agonizing decision that tears at me from the inside out to the extent that no sooner have I taken the first pill than my body and soul scream at me that I’ve done something awful”, after all.
In fact, the very notion that a woman, having taken a pill to end her pregnancy, might then decide that she had made a mistake is repugnant to the pro-choice movement. “Abortion regret”, after all, they insist, is not real. But if women are regretting it before it’s even finished, to the extent that they seek help to stop it, that would tend to undermine the narrative.
There are, of course, many circumstances where a woman might have good reason to seek help. The Pro-Choice movement, of course, pretends that there are no circumstances where women are coerced to take abortion pills by abusive husbands, or partners, or, very often, pimps. Indeed, at the same time as they’re saying that abortion reversal isn’t real, they’re campaigning to get rid of the so-called “three day waiting period” which is explicitly in the Irish legislation to give women time to think, or, if necessary, escape, before they do possibly permanent damage to a pregnancy they might wish to continue with.
What’s better, though? Making the realisation that you don’t actually want to have an abortion in the three days before you take the pill, or making it in the three days after you’ve taken it?
As for the HSE, and their “abortion reversal isn’t a thing”? They’d hardly be worried about potential legal cases resulting from children who had been damaged by an abortion pill taken by a woman who’d been coerced by a partner, when the doctor didn’t check properly to make sure this was the case, would they?
Nah, never. The HSE doesn’t have a record of putting legal concerns ahead of the public now, does it? Ellen Coyne should really do a story about that.
Anyway, if you don’t trust a horrible right wing god-squad anti-choice pro-lifer like me on this subject, here’s the relevant piece from that NPR report. Do your own reading. If you don’t trust Gript on abortion, you sure as hell shouldn’t be trusting pro-choice activist hacks like Ellen Coyne:
So what happens if a woman takes mifepristone, then changes her mind and wants to continue with the pregnancy?
If the change of heart comes in the first hour after she’s swallowed that initial medicine, her doctor might help her induce vomiting. If she hasn’t yet absorbed the first drug, the process may be stopped before it starts.
The bigger question, and one for which the data are murkier, is: What happens if a woman takes the first medicine but never goes on to take misoprostol, the second drug in the regimen?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, “as many as half of women who take only mifepristone continue their pregnancies.” (If the pregnancy does continue, mifepristone isn’t known to cause birth defects, ACOG notes.)
In 2012, a San Diego physician named George Delgado said he had hit upon a chemical way of stopping the abortion process with more certainty — a way to give more control to a woman who changed her mind. He called his protocol “abortion pill reversal.”
A family medicine physician, Delgado calls himself “pro-life,” not anti-abortion. He says about a decade ago he got interested in the 24-hour window after a woman takes mifepristone but before she takes misoprostol.
He’d received a call from a local activist who said a woman needed Delgado’s help. She had swallowed the first pill in the abortion regimen but had reconsidered and no longer wanted to end her pregnancy
“People do change their minds all the time,” Delgado says.
Hoping to help the woman, Delgado gave her progesterone — a medication that has many uses, including as a treatment for irregular vaginal bleeding and as part of hormone replacement therapy during menopause. If progesterone is useful in these other ways, Delgado figured, it might stop the action of the progesterone-blocker mifepristone, and halt an abortion.
Delgado says the pregnancy of that first patient continued uneventfully, which he credits to the progesterone.
He then started giving the progesterone treatment to more patients who came to him. He went on to develop a network of clinicians around the country willing to give progesterone to patients who no longer want to go through with their abortions, although he wouldn’t say how many of those clinicians took part in his research.