A 2012 study found 87 percent of women who seek an abortion were highly confident about the decision before receiving any pre-abortion counseling. But what if a woman changes her mind?
Abortion reversal is a method touted by San Deigo-based Dr. George Delgado. He started building a network of doctors and nurses to preform reversals three years ago. Today this network is active in 34 states including Iowa.
When Jill became pregnant in early 2013, she says her relationship wasn’t going anywhere and she didn’t feel financially prepared to have a second child.
So Jill, who’s not using her real name to protect her daughter’s privacy, says she selected to have a medical abortion, which is a two pill regimen. The first pill, mifepristone, blocks progesterone flow to the fetus, and misoprostol, the second pill, causes contractions.
“I took the first pill and instantly regretted it," Jill says. "I just couldn’t stop thinking, of like he/she could be something great, he/she could be such a great person, and I would never know."
That night Jill says she contacted nurse Debbie Bradel through the website abortionpillreversal.com. Bradel told her progesterone shots could possibly counteract the effects of the first hormone-blocking pill.
Jill was a good candidate for abortion reversal as she had yet to take the misoprostol. However Bradel didn't know of any doctors in Iowa who performed abortion reversals.
Jill says she contacted Covenant Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Waterloo, since she knew the organization didn’t support abortion.
“They did a little bit of research, found the little research there was on it,” Jill says. “They said there was no guarantees as far as if there’s going to be any side effects, or there’s going be any birth defects.”
Now 13 months old, Jill’s daughter is active, precocious and healthy.
Delgado says the first abortion reversal he consulted on was in 2008 when a San Antonio crisis pregnancy center asked if he knew how to stop a medical abortion. Since mifepristone blocks progesterone receptors, kind of like jamming a lock with a key that doesn’t fit, Delgado says he hypothesized that the abortion could be stopped with progesterone injections.
“I thought to myself if we could put more progesterone in the system, and we could out compete on a molecule to molecule basis at receptors so that we would have more good keys going in, opening the door,” Delgado says.
To date Delgado reports 79 children have been born to women who changed their minds about abortion, and another 55 women are currently pregnant. Delgado says abortion reversal is 55 to 60 percent effective, but other physicians aren’t so sure.
OBGYN Dr. Dan Grossman is the vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health in Oakland, Calif. He says since the abortion pill binds strongly to progesterone receptors, he doubts flushing the body with the hormone makes a difference.
“It binds much more tightly to the progesterone receptor, to block it than progesterone itself does,” Grossman says. “So there really is not much evidence to indicate, I'm really not aware of anything, that by increasing the amount of progesterone you’re gonna somehow block the effect of this drug.”
Grossman adds since medical abortions are less successful when women take only the first of the two pills, it’s not clear what’s occurring biologically.
“I think this is really outside of standard of care to just begin doing this kind of treatment, without collecting more rigorous studies about its effectiveness,” Grossman says.
The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved progesterone for abortion reversals, but off-label use of various medications is not uncommon. So abortion reversals probably aren’t going away. In fact availability is spreading.
Across the street from Bettendorf’s Planned Parenthood clinic sits Women’s Choice Center, a Christian crisis pregnancy center. WCC started offering abortion reversals in November. So far the clinic has been contacted by two women, neither decided to undergo progesterone treatment.
“I’m not expecting huge numbers (of reversal patients,)” says OBGYN Dr. Karla Polaschek, WCC’s medical director. “Women go through a lot of discernment on whether they’re going through termination. But for those who do change their mind, it’s nice to give them an option.”
In front of WCC a banner hangs advertising abortion reversal to Planned Parenthood patients, just in case they do change their minds.