Planned Parenthood recently opened a reproductive health-care clinic on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans that will soon have a neighbor offering a medically dubious service.
Woman’s New Life Center, a self-described “Christian organization promoting the sanctity of human life, the dignity of women, and the sacredness of sexuality,” plans to build a clinic that will target “abortion-minded women” next to the Planned Parenthood facility.
The center will offer “abortion reversal,” a concept based on a 2012 paper published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy. The paper claimed that medication abortions, a two-pill regimen, were reversed among four of six women included in the study. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has questioned the veracity of the 2012 study.
“Abortion reversal” this year became part of official South Dakota state policy. A Republican-backed Arizona law forcing doctors to tell patients it was scientifically possible to undo a medication abortion never went into effect thanks to a lawsuit and a court ruling against the measure.
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Dr. Ilana Addis, chair of ACOG’s Arizona Section, has called so-called abortion reversal “tantamount to quackery.”
According to Angela Thomas, CEO of Women’s New Life Center, the new Louisiana facility will be called Hope Woman’s Clinic, and will also provide “well women’s care, STD testing, pap smears, breast exams” and other reproductive health-care services. Thomas told Rewire that the organization hopes to raise $1.8 million to construct the new facility, and so far, private donations have totaled $1.5 million.
The property where Woman’s New Life Center plans to build the facility was purchased in June 2015 by a private donor for $167,000. Thomas told Rewire that the organization hopes the facility will be completed within the next year.
Dr. Susan Caldwell, a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics, will provide so-called abortion reversal services, Thomas said, to pregnant people who have completed the first step of the two-part medication abortion procedure.
Medication abortions are typically provided early in a pregnancy. The procedure involves the administration of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first pill, mifepristone, blocks receptors for the hormone progesterone, softens the cervix, and promotes uterine contractions. The second pill, misoprostol, causes the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy.
Thomas said that Woman’s New Life Center is offering “abortion reversal” because clients have expressed a need for the service.
“We see many clients who express immediate regret when they’ve completed a [medication] abortion,” Thomas said. “When we found out about this abortion reversal protocol it was certainly a need that could be helpful to women in our community.”
Ninety-five percent of women who had obtained an abortion felt it was the right decision, according to one study. Among those who expressed regret, 89 percent felt it was the right decision.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast said in a statement that Woman’s New Life Center is providing misinformation to people seeking reproductive health care. “Organizations that attempt to deceive women seeking urgent reproductive health care with inaccurate and misleading information are a threat to the safety of women in Louisiana,” the group said.
Dr. George Delgado, a California physician who opposes abortion rights, introduced the concept of “abortion reversal.” Delgado is the medical director of Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego and the medical director of the organization’s “Abortion Pill Reversal” program.
Culture of Life Family Services is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as the “flip-side” to Planned Parenthood. The organization has two locations where it offers “true reproductive health care and abortion alternatives to women.”
Delgado published an article in December 2012 in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy that documented a collection of anecdotes from Catholic physicians who attempt to reverse medication abortions.
The article has been criticized for methodological and scientific flaws.
Louisiana lawmakers during the 2016 legislative session passed HCR 87, a resolution that requested the Department of Health and Hospitals to report “whether the effects of an abortion induced with drugs or chemicals can be reversed.”
Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), who sponsored the legislation, announced at the National Right to Life Convention held in New Orleans in July 2015 that he would introduce the legislation during the 2016 legislative session.
The resolution cites Delgado for “develop[ing] and successfully implement[ing] a method of reversing what was thought to be the inevitably fatal effect of the RU-486 abortion pill.”
Mifepristone, the first drug in the medication abortion procedure, is also known as RU-486.
When the Republican-controlled house passed the resolution in May, Hoffmann said he had considered introducing legislation mandating that abortion providers inform patients that a medication abortion could be reversed, but wanted to ensure the process was scientifically sound.
“We wanted to make sure it works,” Hoffmann said.
Dr. Cheryl Chastine, an abortion provider for South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas, told Talking Points Memo that there is no evidence the so-called abortion reversal procedure is actually reversing the effects of a medication abortion.
“The medical literature is quite clear that mifepristone on its own is only about 50 percent effective at ending a pregnancy,” Chastine said. “That means that 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. Those numbers are consistent with what these people are reporting.”
Thomas said that if critics of the organization’s decision to offer “abortion reversals” are actually pro-choice, then they should support organizations that offer the service.
“If they’re for choice, then why wouldn’t they be for this woman’s choice to reverse that process?” Thomas said. “Sometimes they tend to put the pro-life side in a box, but we are very much a professional clinic. There is no judgement, there is not advice given.”