Credit: Unsplash (L) and Christian Concern (R)

New study indicates abortion pill reversal could be successful 81% of time

A new study has indicated that abortion pill reversal – a process which advocates say can safely reverse the effect of taking an abortion pill – could be successful up to 81% of the time.

Doctors who provide abortion pill reversal say they began to offer the treatment in response to demand from women who had taken a first abortion pill and then regretted their decision.

The process involves prescribing progesterone which acts to maintain a pregnancy and reverses the effect of Mifepristone, which is ingested in the first of two abortion pills, and works to block the progesterone receptor, thus aborting the baby.

Progesterone has long been regarded as safe, and has been given as a treatment against miscarriage in many countries for decades without controversy.

The new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports by Doctors Christina Camilleri and Stephen Sammut, indicated that progesterone administration following initiation of mifepristone-induced pregnancy termination reversed the process 81% of the time in the group.

In a published Executive Summary, the authors explained that the study was conducted using rats. “While there are clear differences between animals and humans, there are many similarities, at many levels. This allows scientists to utilize animal models to investigate various questions keeping the limitations of the differences in mind,” they said.

The rats were divided into three different groups.

  • A control group of pregnant rats given neither mifepristone nor progesterone.
  • Those given mifepristone and no progesterone.
  • Rats given both mifepristone and progesterone.

“The administration of progesterone following mifepristone reverses the effects of mifepristone, resulting in living offspring at the end of gestation in a majority of rats (81.3%),” they reported.

They also found that the fetal heart rates in the reversal group were no different from those in the normal pregnancy group.

The researchers said that “a substantial proportion of pregnancies end in induced abortion globally. Increasingly, medication abortions have become more prevalent over time”.

“Data also indicates a percentage of women who seek assistance in potentially reversing the medication abortion process,” they wrote.

“Progesterone is the major hormone that is necessary to maintain a pregnancy. In medication abortion, the first drug administered (mifepristone, RU-486) works by blocking the progesterone receptor, thus terminating the pregnancy. While previous literature and clinical reports have suggested the potential use of progesterone to reverse a mifepristone-induced abortion, the process has not been effectively investigated pre-clinically,” they explained.

“This study explored the potential reversal of a mifepristone-induced pregnancy termination using progesterone in a rat model at a gestational time that is equivalent to first trimester (the time when many medication abortions occur) in humans,” the researchers wrote.

They found that while “mifepristone (and no progesterone) causes a complete pregnancy termination”, the use of progesterone reversed the effect in the group who received the treatment 81% of the time.

“Progesterone reverses the effects of mifepristone (i.e., reverses the abortion)” they concluded. “Living offspring were present at the end of gestation in a majority of rats in the reversal group.”

They said that: “In conclusion, this study confirms the potential for progesterone to reverse an abortion during the early stages of the abortion process.”

“The findings of the study also indicate the necessity for additional research in order to ensure the best clinical practices and patient care,” they added.

Dr Dermot Kearney, an Irish consultant cardiologist who currently offers the treatment in the UK, told Gript that the abortion pill reversal process is “very safe and often effective”.

Dr Kearney pointed out that 4,000 babies have already been born – mostly in the USA – since 2012 because of what he described as an “essential rescue treatment”.

C: Christian Concern

The senior doctor pointed to his own case in 2021, where himself and another doctor found themselves at the centre of complaints from abortion providers to the GMC over their offering of the treatment. Both doctors had been assisting mothers with APR since 2020, and both were subsequently investigated by the GMC.

The cases against both doctors were dismissed in early 2022 as it was found there was no prospect of finding any evidence to suggest that they might be guilty of professional misconduct.

“Indeed, witness statements from many of the mothers helped and from expert witnesses were highly supportive of the APR service provided. It was actually described by the GMC expert witness as addressing an “unmet need””, Dr Kearney said.

He also addressed claims that women who take the first abortion pill but not the second, misoprostol, “are at higher risk of severe haemorrhage”.

The doctor said that there is a “theoretical risk of severe haemorrhage” but that statistics show that the majority of women who bleed heavily to the point of requiring blood transfusions have taken both abortion pills, mifepristone and misoprostol.

He clarified that progesterone does not cause or increase the risk of bleeding.

“There is a theoretical risk of severe haemorrhage after Mifepristone if Misoprostol is not taken. Misoprostol causes uterine contraction and this muscular contraction might help to reduce the risk of bleeding that is always likely to occur after Mifepristone,” he said.

“Progesterone does not cause or increase the risk of bleeding. If the Progesterone rescue treatment is successful, it actually reduces the risk of heavy bleeding.

“Having said all that, many mothers bleed heavily within 48 hours after they have taken Mifepristone, even before they are due to take Misoprostol.

“In addition, the majority of mothers who bleed heavily and require blood transfusions have taken both Mifepristone and Misoprostol. The reality is that there is no definite evidence that severe bleeding risk is increased by not taking Misoprostol after Mifepristone. APR per se, using Progesterone, certainly does not increase any risk of heavy bleeding”.

Providers of abortion pill reversal say that reports around a study on the process which claimed that women had suffered severe hemorrhaging during the research failed to report that only 12 women enrolled and two dropped out of the study because of the pill’s difficult side effects of nausea, vomiting, and bleeding.

While the research was abruptly ended when three women required emergency hospital treatment for hemorrhaging, two of the three women received mifepristone only, while just one had also received progesterone.

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