Several television stations ran segments promoting a controversial method for supposedly “reversing” a medical abortion that is promoted by anti-choice groups while failing to disclose that medical experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have said such treatments are unproven and are potentially harmful for patients.
NC Fox Station Promotes Unproven “Abortion Reversal” Treatment In Segment Picked Up By Five Other TV News Programs
Fox Station In Charlotte, NC Promoted Controversial “Abortion Reversal” Kit. A Fox-owned and operated station in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 3 ran a segment promoting an “abortion reversal kit” used by Dr. Matthew Harrison who claimed the treatment could be used to reverse a medication abortion, a type of abortion which involves taking two medications spaced several days apart. The segment claimed the treatment worked by “flood[ing] the woman's body with so much progesterone the abortion pill gets neutralized.” From WJZY (emphasis added):
REPORTER BILL MELUGIN: A Charlotte area doctor has found a way to save lives before they ever come into this world. Believe it or not he's pioneered a way to reverse the effects of the abortion pill and it works. As a result, more than 100 babies all across the country have been given a second chance along with their moms -- who once felt like they made a mistake.
MELUGIN: [An “abortion reversal kit” is] basically a series of progesterone shots a woman has to take within 72 hours of ingesting the first of two abortion pills and it was pioneered by Charlotte-area doctor Matt Harrison. Here's how it works: the abortion pill essentially starves a baby by blocking progesterone, that's the natural hormone in a woman's body. Dr. Harrison's treatment floods the woman's body with so much progesterone the abortion pill gets neutralized.
DR. MATTHEW HARRISON: It's still about 65% effective and those are pretty good numbers. I think that if we can, kind of fine-tune the protocol and make it more standardized then I think that those numbers would improve.
MELUGIN: But it's got to be taken within 72 hours or it will not work. That's because the second abortion pill that induces labor is usually taken 2 to 3 days after the first one that starves the baby of nutrients.
MELUGIN: So far 137 babies have been born without any complications after their moms used the reversal kits. 76 moms are still pregnant and doing well after reversing their abortions and on top of that their network has expanded to over 300 physicians all across America. Although he identifies as pro-life, Dr. Harrison feels that what he's really doing is giving women a choice.
MELUGIN: And as for any possible side effects with this treatment Dr. Harrison said there is only a 5% chance of rare deformities in a baby's face and hands but that's only if the mom took the second abortion pill that induces labor. [WJZY, Fox 46, 11/3/15]
Several Other Fox TV News Stations Ran Or Repurposed Charlotte Station's Misleading Report On Abortion Reversal Treatment. Fox-owned affiliates in Dallas, TX, Atlanta, GA, and Gainesville, FL rebroadcast all or part of WJZY's report by Bill Melugin while a Fox affiliate in Cleveland, OH repackaged the information about the supposed “abortion reversal” treatment but removed the interviews done by WJZY's reporter. From Cleveland Fox 8 News:
REPORTER: A major medical breakthrough in North Carolina after a doctor develops a procedure to reverse chemical abortions. Dr. Matthew Harrison came up with the emergency abortion pill reversal kit. So far 137 babies have been born without any complications and 76 mothers are still pregnant as a result of the kit.
So here's how it works: it floods the woman's body with progesterone so the abortion pill doesn't work. The kit is already available at over 300 doctors' offices across the country. [Fox 8 News, 11/5/15; KDFW, Fox 4, 11/4/15; WOGX, Fox51, 11/4/15; WAGA, Good Morning Atlanta, 11/4/15]
Fox's Misleading Reporting Even Crept Into Reporting From A Local CBS Affiliate. A CBS affiliate in Hampton Roads, Virginia also picked up the story, calling the “emergency abortion pill reversal kit” a “major medical breakthrough.” [WTKR, News at 11, 11/5/15]
But “Abortion Reversal” Promoted By Anti-Choice Groups Is Unproven Treatment
Doctor Promoting Abortion Reversal Treatment Is Not An OB-GYN And Is Advisor For Anti-Choice Group Priests For Life. Dr. Matthew Harrison is a family practitioner who serves on the Medical Advisory Board of the anti-choice group Priests for Life. A December 2014 press release from Priests for Life stated that “because Dr. Harrison is a family practitioner, he doesn't see that many OB-GYN patients.” From Priest For Life website:
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, announced today that Dr. Matt Harrison, one of the physicians on the Medical Advisory Board of Priests for Life, has taken additional steps to equip medical professionals to save lives by reversing the effects of the abortion technique RU-486. This involves the deployment of an RU-486 reversal kit and increased publicity in the coming months.
Dr. Harrison said that after Father Pavone published a column on the reversal, “I started getting calls from all over, including other countries.” But because Dr. Harrison is a family practitioner, he doesn't see that many OB-GYN patients. [Priests For Life, 12/15/14]
Abortion Reversal “Kits” Promoted In Local News Segment Are From San Diego Anti-Choice Group. The WJZY report said the “abortion reversal kits” come from a website which connects women with providers. The website featured in the report -- abortionpillreversal.com -- is the work of San Diego-based anti-choice gynecologist George Delgado, who is on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The FAQ page on this website says that it does not provide the abortion pill to women because the organization is “dedicated to preserving and protecting human life.” [LifeNews.com, 2/25/15; AAPLOG.org, accessed 11/6/15; Abortion Pill Reversal, accessed 11/6/15]
Medical Experts Do Not Support Proposed Treatment For Medication Abortion “Reversals”
ACOG: “Claims Of Medication Abortion Reversal Are Not Supported By The Body Of Scientific Evidence ... And This Approach Is Not Recommended.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a fact sheet regarding the use of progesterone as a form of “medication abortion reversal” which said it was “not recommended in ACOG's clinical guidance on medication abortion” and that “progesterone ... can cause significant ... adverse reactions as well as other side effects.” From ACOG (emphasis added):
Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence, and this approach is not recommended in ACOG's clinical guidance on medication abortion. There are no ACOG guidelines that support this course of action.
- Taking mifepristone (without misoprostol) will not always cause abortion by itself, so no intervention may lead to the same result as this case series.
- There are no reliable research studies to prove that any treatment reverses the effects of mifepristone.
What the evidence suggests:
- Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone.
- Progesterone, while generally well tolerated, can cause significant cardiovascular, nervous system and endocrine adverse reactions as well as other side effects. [American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, accessed 11/6/15]
Abortion Reversals Are “Based On 'Flawed Science.'” A Yahoo Parenting article interviewed the co-author of an article that reviewed the proposed treatment for reversing medical abortions who found “this treatment is not at all proven.” The article also quotes an OB-GYN with Los Angeles Women's Obstetrics and Gynecology, who said the group promoting the abortion reversal kits “have some creative marketing and the right tools to get the word out.” From Yahoo (emphasis added):
But Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn with Los Angeles Women's Obstetrics and Gynecology, tells Yahoo Parenting that Harrison's recommendations for progesterone treatment are based on “flawed science.” “There is no proof that this works, no clinical studies,” she says, noting that when the procedure was discussed at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last year, the governing body was “very unsupportive and concerned -- they did not endorse it.”
Indeed, a systematic review of the “reversal” treatment, published in June in the international reproductive-health journal Contraception, concluded that “in the rare case that a woman changes her mind after starting medical abortion, evidence is insufficient to determine whether treatment with progesterone after mifepristone results in a higher proportion of continuing pregnancies compared to expectant management.”
A co-author of that review, Daniel Grossman, MD, an ob-gyn in Oakland, Calif., tells Yahoo Parenting, “This treatment is not at all proven. Might it work? Yes. But women need to be informed that it's experimental and needs to be evaluated with rigorous clinical research and oversight to be sure it's being done ethically and appropriately. Right now, that's not happening.”
One thing is certain: If a woman who does have regrets searches online for information about canceling mifepristone's effects, she will find APR. “They have some creative marketing,” Ross says, “and the right tools to get the word out.” [Yahoo Parenting, 11/5/15]
Doctors Found Arizona Law That Attempted To Require Doctors To Falsely Inform Patients Progesterone Could Reverse A Medical Abortion Was Similarly Not Based On Science. In 2015, Arizona passed a bill -- later put on hold by a federal court -- that would have required abortion providers to tell patients false information that it is possible to “reverse” a medical abortion using progesterone. Arizona-based gynecologists did not support the bill with one telling The Atlantic "there is no science to support this." From The Atlantic (emphasis added):
But even gynecologists, who tend to be more reluctant about mobilizing on abortion legislation, are up in arms over this bill. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged its members on Twitter to pressure Arizona governor Doug Ducey to veto the measure.
“There is no science to support this,” Arizona-based gynecologist Ilana Addis told me. “ACOG does not support advising women on treatments that are not evidence-based. These women would be unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs.”
Under the Arizona bill, doctors would tell patients that, should they change their minds after they take the mifepristone but before they take the misoprostol, it's not too late to “reverse” it. The reversal entails receiving a large dose of progesterone, the theory being that the extra hormone will override the progesterone-blocking mifepristone and ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Addis cautions that it's generally not a good idea to give women false hope that they can reverse their abortions. But more importantly, a large dose of progesterone does have side-effects that any women seeking these “reversals” would needlessly endure. “There can be cardiovascular side effects, glucose tolerance issues, it can cause problems with depression in people who already had it,” Addis said. “And there are more annoying things, like bloating, fatigue, that kind of stuff. It's an unpleasant drug to take.” [The Atlantic, 3/27/15]