‘Abortion Reversal’ Proponents Just Got Bad News in Louisiana

The medical community has characterized so-called abortion reversal as “junk science” and “tantamount to quackery," even as anti-choice legislators continue to back the concept.

GOP lawmakers in legislatures nationwide have pushed the concept of "abortion reversal." Shutterstock

While Republican lawmakers in state legislatures have vigorously promoted the anti-choice pseudoscience of so-called abortion pill reversal, a new report adds to the pile of evidence showing claims from “reversal” supporters are unsubstantiated.

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) this week issued a report concluding there is “insufficient evidence to suggest that there is a sound method to reverse a medication-induced abortion.”

Amy Irvin, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, told Rewire that too often Louisiana lawmakers put their “ideologies or political aspirations” ahead of the health of Louisiana women and families.

“Last week’s report puts policy makers on notice, and affirms the importance of citing credible, scientific evidence in creating healthcare policy for its citizens,” Irvin said.

Louisiana lawmakers during the 2016 legislative session passed HCR 87, a resolution that asked LDH to study “whether the effects of an abortion induced with drugs or chemicals can be reversed.”

Dr. George Delgado, a California physician who opposes abortion rights, popularized the concept of “abortion reversal.” Delgado is the medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in Escondido, California, and the head of the organization’s “abortion pill reversal” program.

Delgado published an article in December 2012 in the medical journal Annals of Pharmacotherapy documenting anecdotes from Catholic doctors who attempted to reverse medication abortions. The article has been criticized for methodological and scientific flaws.

The medical community has characterized so-called abortion reversal as “junk science” and “tantamount to quackery.”

LDH convened a panel of experts in obstetrics/gynecology and pharmacology from universities around the state to examine the credibility of Delgado’s protocol. The panel reviewed the medical research underpinning the “reversal” of medication abortion, and consulted policy statements made by professional medical associations.

The report’s authors noted that the panel of experts “unanimously concluded” that the protocol promoted by Delgado was scientifically unsound.

“After review of the professional opinions expressed by the panel of experts, the Department finds that there is neither sufficient evidence nor a scientific basis to conclude that the effects of an abortion induced with drugs or chemicals can be reversed,” the report states.

Among the scientific literature that the panel examined was a study published in 2015 by Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards In Reproductive Health. The study concluded that for the “rare case” when a person changes their mind about terminating a pregnancy through medication abortion, the “evidence is insufficient” to determine whether the protocol was safe and effective to use.

Grossman told Rewire that anti-choice lawmakers have for many years propagated scientifically inaccurate claims about the safety of abortion, but the trend of state’s endorsing so-called abortion pill reversal presents an especially troublesome development.

“This goes a big step father by telling women about a treatment that not proven, and really pushing them into participating in an unmonitored research project,” Grossman said. “This is a very concerning intrusion into the doctor/patient relationship.”

Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), who sponsored the HCR 87, announced at the National Right to Life Convention in July 2015 that he would introduce the reversal legislation in the 2016 legislative session.

Hoffmann told Rewire that he was “disappointed” by the health department’s report, and said he had hoped the department would do a more exhaustive review of the medical evidence. Hoffmann said that the report would not deter him and other lawmakers from bringing the issue before the legislature.

Louisiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-choice organization, supported the passage of HCR 87. Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, declined to comment on the health department report.

Louisiana lawmakers in recent years have introduced and passed several anti-choice laws, and have been praised by national anti-choice organizations for having some of the most restrictive laws in the country.

Irvin told Rewire that the GOP-majority legislature should stop focusing on restricting reproductive health care and start focusing on addressing the state’s impending fiscal cliff.

“With just three abortion clinics in the entire state and a multitude of restrictions, Louisiana women must overcome onerous barriers to abortion care due to laws based in speculation and junk science,” Irvin said. “It is unconscionable and immoral for Louisiana politicians to continue their assault on reproductive healthcare when their focus ought to be fixing the budget and ensuring funding for much-needed services.”