Judge allows Catholic clinic to continue abortion pill reversal treatment amid Colorado's ban

Anti-abortion activists protest against the availability of abortion pills at neighborhood pharmacies outside of a CVS Pharmacy on January 18, 2023, in Washington, D.C., Earlier in February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a regulatory change that now allows retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills to people who have a prescription. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal judge has temporarily exempted a Catholic pro-life clinic from a new Colorado law that prohibits medical providers from offering progesterone as a form of treatment to pregnant women seeking to reverse the effects of the abortion pill mifepristone.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico issued a preliminary injunction Sunday temporarily prohibiting Colorado from enforcing SB23-190 on Bella Health and Wellness, an OB-GYN and Catholic healthcare practice that filed a lawsuit after the new legislation was signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday. 

Domenico argued that the new law likely burdens the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. Based in Englewood, Bella Health and Wellness employs 18 healthcare providers and serves about 200 new patients each month. The organization also has offices in Denver and Lafayette. 

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Colorado on behalf of Bella Health and Wellness.

SB23-190, one of three similar bills signed by the governor on Friday, makes it a "deceptive trade practice" for people to make or disseminate advertisements that imply they provide abortion, contraception or referrals for these services. 

SB23-190 prohibits providers from administering or prescribing the abortion pill reversal treatment, citing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which claims the treatment "is not based on science." Providers who offer this treatment to patients may be disciplined by their respective medical boards and have their licenses revoked. 

The law instructs the state medical board to decide by October whether progesterone can be used "off-label" to reverse the effects of mifepristone.

The Democratic governor also signed two other bills, SB23-188 and SB23-189.

For "Abortion pill reversal" treatment, women are prescribed progesterone after they have taken mifepristone, the first of the two pills used in the chemical abortion regimen.

"The legal merits of the plaintiffs' claims present difficult questions that cannot be adequately analyzed within the time constraints necessary to prevent potential irreparable injury to the plaintiffs' patients who have already begun progesterone treatment and may have their care interrupted absent immediate injunctive relief," Domenico wrote in his injunction, according to The Colorado Sun.

The judge further surmised that the "plaintiffs are sufficiently likely to succeed on the merits of one or more of their claims."

In the complaint, the pro-life group argues that prescribing progesterone to women seeking to negate mifepristone's effects is "perfectly legal" in 49 states. 

As the first drug in the chemical abortion pill regimen, mifepristone blocks the progesterone hormone needed for the pregnancy to continue, starving the preborn child of nutrients. The second drug, misoprostol, is typically taken 24-48 hours later to expel the preborn child from the uterus. 

The plaintiffs argue that women who feel tricked or pressured into taking mifepristone to end their pregnancies should have the option to continue carrying their baby to term if they change their minds about having an abortion.

"While Colorado allows Plaintiffs and other health care providers to use progesterone for all other women facing threatened miscarriage, SB 23-190 makes it illegal for them to offer the same treatment for women facing threatened miscarriage because they initially took mifepristone (whether willingly or not) but now want to remain pregnant," the complaint states. "Colorado law would force these women to abort pregnancies they wish to continue."

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside members of the Colorado Medical Board, members of the Colorado State Board of Nursing and three other Colorado district attorneys, are listed as defendants in the suit. 

Bella Health and Wellness also claims progesterone is a hormone that a woman's body makes naturally and is critical to maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

According to the lawsuit, the clinic administers progesterone to patients facing a potential miscarriage, with the suit explaining that the hormone "helps thicken the uterine lining and suppresses uterine contractions" to support the pregnancy.

The healthcare organization also claims that the law interferes with their providers' religious duty to uphold the "dignity" of human life by offering progesterone to women who have changed their minds after taking the first drug in the abortion pill regimen. 

"We opened Bella because of our belief that life is a precious gift from God, worthy of protection at all stages," Dede Chism, co-founder and CEO at Bella Health and Wellness, stated in a statement Friday. 

The lawsuit comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on a series of lower court decisions restricting access to the abortion pill. On Saturday, Justice Samuel Alito granted the Biden administration's request for an emergency stay until the court makes its decision Wednesday. 

On April 12, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to stay a decision by U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. Northern District of Texas earlier this month that suspended the Food and Drug Administration's approval of mifepristone. 

Kacsmaryk granted the request of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and four individual doctors to suspend the FDA's approval of the drug. 

The appellate court temporarily overruled the district court's suspension of the FDA's 2000 approval of mifepristone. However, the court upheld the part of the ruling that struck down the FDA's relaxation of requirements for the distribution of mifepristone, including in-person visits and allowing the drug to be distributed through the mail. 

Another change included a limit on when providers could prescribe the pill to women, changing it from 10 weeks of pregnancy to seven weeks. 

In 2019, a study titled "Blocking Mifepristone Action With Progesterone" attempted to analyze the safety of reversing the effects of a chemical abortion with progesterone was terminated after recruiting 12 participants. Three women in the study suffered from a severe hemorrhage and required transport to the hospital. 

As pro-life researcher Carole Novielli reported in May 2020 for Live Action News, two women who started hemorrhaging received a placebo while one took progesterone. Novielli noted, however, that hemorrhaging is a side effect of taking mifepristone.

She also highlighted study author Mitchell Creinin's connection to Danco Laboratories, the abortion pill manufacturer. The researcher cited evidence that Creinin had received compensation from the company by acting as a consultant for the abortion pill. Novielli questioned if there was a profit motive behind the study.

A 2018 Cochrane review concluded that progesterone "probably reduces the risk of miscarriage" but highlighted the need for further evidence.

In November 2021, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines recommending providers treat pregnant women experiencing early bleeding in pregnancy with progesterone, stating that it "slightly" reduces the chance of miscarriage. 

After analyzing the effect of progesterone on reducing miscarriages, NICE found that the beneficial effects of progesterone were complete by 12 weeks of pregnancy. By this time, according to NICE, the mother's placenta and not her ovary makes the progesterone needed to support the pregnancy. 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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