California Regulator: Stop Teaching Abortion ‘Reversal’

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California Regulator: Stop Teaching Abortion ‘Reversal’

Nicole Knight

The cease-and-desist letter marks a sharp reversal by the state nursing board, which just last month approved a course teaching so-called abortion reversal—a medically dubious concept pushed by anti-choice organizations.

The California nursing board has rejected a course on so-called abortion “reversal,” issuing a cease-and-desist letter to force a national anti-choice group to stop teaching the unproven practice.

Rewire obtained a copy of a letter sent September 1 to Susan Dammann of Heartbeat International by the head of the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), which oversees and regulates the state’s continuing education (CE) courses for nurses and CE providers.

The letter, signed by Dr. Joseph Morris, executive officer of the nursing board, gives Heartbeat International five days to comply in writing or risk losing its status as a CE provider. The notice says “content related to abortion medication reversal (AMR) does not meet the Board’s criteria … which states in part that the ‘content of all courses of continuing education must be relevant to the practice of nursing.'”

The letter gives Heartbeat International five days to contest the decision with the board’s executive officer. Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, told Rewire in an email statement that the organization had not received the cease-and-desist letter. “Thank you for providing potential evidence that the California Board of Nursing may, in fact, be leaking such communications, complete with date of authorship and prior to actual notice to us,” Godsey said.

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The cease-and-desist letter marks a sharp reversal by the nursing board. Just last month the regulatory agency approved the course—giving credence to the unproven notion that it’s scientifically possible to undo a medication abortion, a two-drug regime taken to end an early pregnancy. So-called abortion medication reversal has long been pushed by anti-choice organizations. 

At that time, a spokesperson for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, a consumer watchdog agency that includes the Board of Registered Nursing, told Rewire the abortion “reversal” class met the department’s scientific standard for nursing education and the “letter of the law.”

The September 1 letter says the board made its about-face after “further consideration and a legal review.” Sources with knowledge of the decision told Rewire the letter followed a meeting among staff from the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee, and representatives from the state Department of Consumer Affairs and Board of Registered Nursing.

Rewire contacted the BRN for comment on the cease-and-desist letter on Friday, but did not hear back by deadline.

single paper published in 2012 supports the claim that it’s possible to undo a medication abortion, a regimen involving two separate medications, mifepristone and misoprostol. The paper, co-authored by two California doctors, relies on anecdotes from a tiny sample—seven women—and was conducted without an ethics oversight review.

Even so, major anti-choice groups have latched on to the so-called treatment as a means to undermine abortion care. Godsey told Rewire the organization had “prioritized training nurses on this innovative medical intervention.”

“Every nurse needs to know the truth about abortion—including the truth that a woman can change her mind in some cases even after beginning a chemical abortion,” he told Rewire in an email last month.

Representatives from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told Rewire their experts recently presented the BRN with evidence showing there’s no proven, scientific basis for abortion “reversal.”

California regulators for years allowed national anti-choice groups to teach similar unproven ideas to nurses in continuing education classes, as Rewire first reported in January 2016. When Heartbeat International, for example, taught the abortion reversal class at a national conference in 2015, it touted in printed materials that it was approved by the state of California to do so.

Last fall, following Rewire’s reporting, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill to crack down on continuing education providers and require the courses to hew toscientific knowledge or technical skills required for the practice of nursing.” The law, sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), requires the state to routinely audit continuing education providers, something it hadn’t done.