Ireland warns women against using abortion pill reversal that could save babies' lives

Thousands of No campaign supporters hold placards aloft during a LoveBoth Stand Up For Life rally in Dublin, Ireland, on May 12, 2018. | Getty/Charles McQuillan

Women in Ireland are being warned against seeking the abortion pill reversal treatment that’s been successfully used in the U.S. to save babies’ lives.

The Irish Department of Public Health is advising women that there is “no such thing” as abortion reversal and attempts to do so could result in either a miscarriage or an unhealthy outcome for the pregnancy. Similarly, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, described efforts to inform women about the abortion pill reversal as “offensive and entirely unnecessary.” 

But according to Sue Turner, director of Physicians for Life, if a pregnant woman who has taken the first of two abortion pills decides she’s made a mistake and wants to keep her baby, she would have a relatively high chance of delivering a healthy baby if she was to undergo the reversal, she told The Christian Post. 

Turner cited a U.S. study that showed a 64 percent to 68 percent success rate of delivering a healthy baby after a woman has been given the natural hormone progesterone that’s essential to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. CP previously reported on that study and its results here and here.

In a medical abortion, women are given two drugs: mifepristone or RU-486, and misoprostol. Mifepristone works by blocking the effects of the natural pregnancy hormone progesterone. Misoprostol induces contractions and a miscarriage.

“If the mifepristone is blocking the progesterone we give a pregnant woman more progesterone to rise above that limit,” Turner said, “then she should get enough progesterone to hold the baby in place.”

“It’s not like it’s something that doesn’t work,” Turner said in response to the Health Service Executive’s claims that it’s not a “reliable medical practice” and that there’s no such thing as an abortion pill reversal.

“There’s nothing to back up that statement,” she asserted to CP.

“Natural progesterone has been used for decades to stop miscarriages. The doctors will give the mother natural progesterone to stop her from having contractions and help hold the baby in place until she gets closer to her due date. That was why they used it in the first place,” Turner explained.

CP contacted both Harris, Ireland's minister for health, and the HSE for further comment on their advisory that women should avoid attempting the abortion pill reversal despite results showing that hundreds of women have given birth to healthy babies after doctors administered progesterone. Harris did not respond to CP and Emma Lynam with the HSE press office said they had “no further comment on the matter.”

Since Jan. 1, women in Ireland have had the legal right to access abortion up to 12 weeks gestation, and up to 23 weeks if the mother has a medical emergency in which her life is at risk or she suffers from health complications, or if the baby has abnormalities. The law also mandates a three-day waiting period before an abortion can be performed.  

At least 274 general practitioners and 10 hospitals have signed up to provide abortion services in Ireland. CP reported last month that Ireland’s HSE is advertising for open positions at the Dublin-based National Maternity Hospital in gynecology and obstetrics, but only for doctors and nurses who are willing to perform or help administer abortions.

Irish citizens voted in May 2018 (66 percent to 34 percent) to repeal the Eighth Amendment that gave an unborn child the same right to life as a pregnant woman, thus banning abortion except in limited circumstances. Under that amendment, abortion was only legal in a medical emergency or if three doctors agreed that a mother was at risk of suicide. Abortion was also not legal in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities.

Because abortion was illegal, some women were going online to buy abortion pills through telemedicine sites. Taking that risk was one argument deployed by pro-choice advocates as a reason to legalize abortion in Ireland. Harris, the minister for health, and Peter Boylan, the chair of the Institute of Obstetricians, warned against buying abortion pills online as they campaigned for the legalization of abortion last year. 

Turner told CP that there are many websites that encourage women to take misoprostol to induce an abortion. “I shudder to think what happens to her and what she goes through in that process because in about 30 minutes she starts having horrific contractions. And women can die. If the cervix doesn’t open it can cause all kinds of horrible problems for her,” she said. 

Now, women seeking an abortion up to nine weeks can opt to have a medical abortion in which they take two pills 24 to 48 hours apart to induce contractions and ultimately a miscarriage. The pills are dispensed by either a general practitioner or by a doctor at an abortion clinic. Women who are between nine and 12 weeks must have their medical abortion at a hospital, according to the HSE.

Turner said that when mifepristone first came out, the U.S. FDA had a protocol for it to be used through seven weeks, or 49 days from conception. … “But the longer you wait, she said, “the less effective it is.”

Because many abortion clinics in the U.S. were ignoring the FDA’s protocol and using the drug in chemical/medical abortions up to 60 days, states began passing regulations saying they had to follow the FDA’s protocol. “They didn’t want to have to follow the FDA protocol, so [then President] Obama made the FDA change it to the later date, the 60 days, to match up with what the abortion providers were doing.

“The drug was less effective," she said, “and abortionists then had to also perform a surgical abortion, which meant that women were being charged for both chemical and surgical procedures.”

Turner suspects that in Ireland, more women will also have to go back and have a surgical abortion — those who waited past 49 days for the medical abortion.

Last month, on the same day the Irish Times published a series of news articles opposing the abortion pill reversal, in which it called the treatment “unproven” and “bogus,” Dr. Donna Harrison, a board-certified OB/GYN, was giving her testimony to the Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee about its efficacy.

In her testimony, Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said: “The natural hormone progesterone has been used for over 40 years in the IVF industry to help women carry pregnancies after the embryo is transferred into her womb. There is a very long and solid history of safety of the use of natural progesterone in pregnancy. Natural progesterone use in pregnancy for the last 50 years has not been associated with any increased risk of any birth defects.”

She added: “Mifepristone alone has also not, to date, been demonstrated to have any increased risk of birth defects. Thus, to date there does not appear to be any risk of birth defects in the unborn child from abortion pill reversal. Moreover, abortion pill reversal offers another reproductive choice for women facing the abortion decision. Every woman exposed to chemical/medical abortion should know about this option.”

Turner, in her interview with CP, agreed with Harrison, adding that, “To block a woman from having informed consent about what she is about to do is deceptive and wrong.” For all medical procedures patients are informed about the positives and negatives, as well as the different treatments, she noted. "Why shouldn’t [women] be entitled to that same information for an abortion?”

An investigation carried out by The Irish Times over a period of months looked into the strategies employed by pro-life groups, specifically the Dallas, Texas-based Sidewalk Advocates for Life, which was training pro-life organizers in Ireland on how to approach women seeking abortion and give them information about the abortion pill reversal, which was described by the Irish Times as an “unproven technique.”

The Irish Times’ investigation was carried out by two reporters who posed as pro-life advocates to infiltrate the U.S. group and learn their practices. Both declined to be interviewed by CP. The pieces published last month sought, in part, to expose the abortion pill reversal as being unsupported by medical or scientific evidence. The articles also suggested that progesterone was not effective in reversing the effects of mifepristone. 

It cited the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ 2017 guidance that said the abortion “reversal” was not supported by science, but did not include counter arguments by the AAPLOG, an organization formed by pro-life OB/GYNs who broke away from ACOG after it began advocating for abortion on demand and abortion for minors without parental consent. The AAPLOG said it seeks to “provide an evidence-based rationale for defending the lives of both the pregnant mother and her unborn child.”

“The idea of abortion reversal is popular among American anti-abortion activists, right. It is based on the theory that flooding a woman’s body with the hormone progesterone can reverse the effects of the first abortion pill and allow the pregnancy to continue. There is no medical or scientific evidence to support this theory,” The Irish Times asserted in a piece that was also reported by the U.K. Times.

“A guide to medical abortion from … the HSE crisis pregnancy advice service, says that mifepristone is irreversible. ‘If you decide not to take the second medication, there is a risk of harm to the fetus if you continue the pregnancy,’” The Irish Times continued. “Some U.S. states have adopted laws meaning that doctors are required to tell women that a medical abortion can be reversed after the woman has taken the first pill.” 

As part of her oral testimony supporting Kentucky’s Chemical Abortion Reporting Act, Harrison explained why pregnant women should be fully informed about all of their options, including the ability, in some cases, to reverse their abortion.

“A network of Abortion Pill Rescue physicians exists around the country so that women who change their mind after taking Mifeprex (mifepristone) can be put in contact with a physician who will give natural progesterone to reverse the abortion,” Harrison said. “But the woman has to know about this option in order to call the network in time."

“That is why it is critically important that a woman be informed of all of her options, including abortion pill reversal, as part of a full informed consent process prior to starting a chemical abortion,” added Harrison, who has authored peer-reviewed articles on the adverse events reported to the U.S. FDA after use of the abortion drug mifepristone.  

“By giving a woman progesterone, the Mifeprex (mifepristone) abortion can be stopped and the chances of the baby surviving increase from 25 percent (the survival rate without natural progesterone) to 68 percent (the average survival rate after giving natural progesterone),” she continued, detailing how progesterone is an “antidote” to the abortion-inducing drug.

Turner said that since 2012, over 500 healthy babies have been born because of the reversal process. “As long as they have it early enough it works very well. They just can’t take it after the misoprostol, which is the second pill.”

“We hear all the time about women who take the first pill and realize it was a mistake. So in a way it’s a silver lining because there is an option for them. They can continue their pregnancy,” she added. “It’s a lot better than surgical abortion because once they do that there’s no turning back, it’s done.”

“Even if a woman tries it and for some reason it doesn’t work, then at least she knows she tried to save her baby,” Turner said, citing the Abortion Pill Reversal website that offers a 24/7 helpline and information for women seeking help with reversing the effects of mifepristone.

To thwart the efforts of pro-life groups in approaching women outside clinics to inform them about the abortion pill reversal, lawmakers were urged last year to draft legislation to set up exclusion zones (also known as “barrier zones” or “safe zones”) to bar sidewalk counselors or abortion protesters from getting near clinics that perform abortions.  

Harris, the minister for health, said that efforts by the U.S. pro-life group Sidewalk Advocates for Life to approach women and talk to them about their options was “manipulative and it’s deeply disrespectful of our democratic process,” according to the Times.

“The idea that anybody, but particularly outside groups would be trying to undermine our democratic decision and effectively, in my view, harass and intimidate Irishwomen is something that is quite despicable and shows why we need to get on doing what I intend to do regarding safe access zones, that piece of legislation is a priority for me,” Harris added, in an interview with RTE Radio 1.

Harris said the government “aims to have draft exclusion zone legislation prepared by this summer,” according to the

Words and images that would also be banned in the exclusion zones include anything referencing “abortion, baby, mom, fetus, soul, kill, Hell and murder.”

Follow Melissa Barnhart on Twitter: @MelBarnhart

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