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Good news: abortion pill reversal may work 81% of time

It's always been a bit of a conundrum to me that those who shout loudest about women having a "right to choose" also often seem most adamantly opposed to actually giving women real choices. 

This is very evident in the debate around abortion pill reversal - a process by which doctors can prescribe progesterone to help a woman who has taken the first of the two abortion pills required to end the baby's life. Abortion supporters remain implacably and virulently opposed to abortion pill reversal, and seek to undermine at every turn. 

This stance, the average punter might think, is a strange one to take. If providing abortion is all about choices, then surely women should have the right, and the choice, to change their mind. 

Most abortions are now chemical or medical abortions. That involves a woman being prescribed two pills, the first is Mifepristone which blocks the receptor for progesterone, a hormone vital to maintaining a pregnancy.  A follow up pill, Misoprostol, then induces labour to expel the baby. 

However, some women - and anecdotally this seems more likely to occur if women sought abortion in fear and panic -  change their mind after taking the first pill. Doctors who provide abortion pill reversal say they began to offer the treatment in response to demand from women who had taken a first abortion pill and then regretted their decision.

The good news is that help is available, and that a new study indicates that the treatment which seeks to reverse an abortion seems largely reliable. 

The new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports by Doctors Christina Camilleri and Stephen Sammut, indicated that administering progesterone following the initiation of mifepristone-induced abortion reversed the process 81% of the time in the group.

Thus, just as blocking progesterone works to make the interior of the uterus unsupportive of the growing baby, taking progesterone reverses that process and helps to maintain the pregnancy. One doctor described it to me in layman's terms as turning down the progesterone dial and then turning it back up again - hopefully in time to save baby. 

Progesterone has long been regarded as safe, and has been given as a treatment against miscarriage in many countries for decades without controversy.

In a published Executive Summary, the authors of the new study explained that the study was conducted using rats. “While there are clear differences between animals and humans, there are many similarities, at many levels. This allows scientists to utilize animal models to investigate various questions keeping the limitations of the differences in mind,” they said.

The rats were divided into three different groups. A control group of pregnant rats was given neither mifepristone nor progesterone. Another was given mifepristone and no progesterone, while a third was given both mifepristone and progesterone.

“The administration of progesterone following mifepristone reverses the effects of mifepristone, resulting in living offspring at the end of gestation in a majority of rats (81.3%),” the researchers reported.

They also found that the fetal heart rates in the reversal group were no different from those in the normal pregnancy group. This is also an important finding since doctors have argued that an observational study of more than 700 women who sought abortion pill reversal showed that "there was no apparent increased risk of birth defects" for the baby when the process was successful.

The researchers said that “a substantial proportion of pregnancies end in induced abortion globally. Increasingly, medication abortions have become more prevalent over time”.

“Data also indicates a percentage of women who seek assistance in potentially reversing the medication abortion process,” they wrote.

“Progesterone reverses the effects of mifepristone (i.e., reverses the abortion)” they concluded. “Living offspring were present at the end of gestation in a majority of rats in the reversal group.”  They said that: “In conclusion, this study confirms the potential for progesterone to reverse an abortion during the early stages of the abortion process.”

“The findings of the study also indicate the necessity for additional research in order to ensure the best clinical practices and patient care,” they added.

Dr Dermot Kearney, an Irish consultant cardiologist who currently offers the treatment in the UK, has described the abortion pill reversal process as “very safe and often effective”.

Dr Kearney pointed out that 4,000 babies have already been born – mostly in the USA – since 2012 because of what he described as an “essential rescue treatment”.

We already know that women in Ireland have looked for abortion pill reversal services - and that they have been denied the same by the HSE who seem to be following the instructions of abortion campaigners in all matters related to this issue. The claim most often proffered in support of refusing to provide reversal of the abortion pill is that it may be unsafe, even though there is no substantial evidence to back that claim. 

It seems more likely that those who are determined to see abortion expand - while inexplicably ignoring both the destruction of human life and harm caused to women and men - simply oppose any treatment which might change the narrative that every abortion is a good decision. 

For those of us who seek to actually provide women with the support they need to love and cherish their children, rhis important study, and others currently coming to conclusion, will provide evidence that abortion pill reversal is not just safe and reliable, it offers women real choices. 

This article first appeared in the Irish Catholic 

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