As conservative lawmakers pass a record number of anti-abortion laws, it is staggering to consider how many require doctors to tell patients information that has no basis in science. Five states now require abortion providers to inform women about a bogus link between abortion and breast cancer. Several states mandate that doctors say ending a pregnancy can lead to mental health conditions like clinical depression—another falsehood, in the eyes of most mainstream medical groups.
Now there’s a new crop of legislation to add this list: laws forcing doctors to tell women planning to take abortion-inducing drugs that they may be able to change their minds mid-treatment.
On Monday, Arkansas became the second state to pass such a law, just over a week after Arizona’s Republican governor signed a similar measure. A spokeswoman for Americans United for Life, the legal arm of the anti-abortion movement, confirmed that both laws are based on the group’s model legislation.
Critics have slammed these bills as propagating a lie based on “junk science.” According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence.”
Americans United for Life has not only backed the bills, but has enthusiastically endorsed a new procedure pioneered by George Delgado, a pro-life doctor who claims to have reversed abortions.
Most drug-induced abortions require two pills taken a few days apart. The initial dose, of mifepristone, blocks the progesterone hormones that help sustain the pregnancy. The second dose, of misopristol, causes contractions that flush out the pregnancy. Delgado says he’s stopped abortions by injecting supplemental progesterone between the two rounds of medicine. The evidence backing his discovery, however, is incredibly thin. As Olga Khazan writes for The Atlantic:
Women who only take the first pill already have a 30 to 50 percent chance of continuing their pregnancy normally, according to ACOG. The progesterone advice is based on a study by Delgado in which he analyzed six case studies of patients who regretted their abortions and were given progesterone. Four out of the six patients went on to deliver healthy infants. In other words, the limited evidence we have suggests that taking progesterone does not appear to improve the odds of fetal survival by much. The abortion pill binds more tightly to progesterone receptors than progesterone itself does, one reproductive researcher told Iowa Public Radio, and thus the hormone surge is unlikely to do much of anything.
As Cheryl Chastine, an abortion provider at South Wind Women’s Center in Kansas, put it recently, “Even if these doctors were to offer a large dose of purple Skittles, they’d appear to have ‘worked’ to ‘save’ the pregnancy about half the time.”
That’s why, on the small chance that a woman does regret her abortion midway through, ACOG-affiliated doctors say they would simply tell her not to take the second pill.
The injections might not only be useless—large doses of progesterone can actually be dangerous: “There can be cardiovascular side effects, glucose tolerance issues, it can cause problems with depression in people who already had it,” Ilana Addis, a gynecologist who opposed the Arizona measure, told The Atlantic. “And there are more annoying things, like bloating, fatigue, that kind of stuff. It’s an unpleasant drug to take.”
The new Arkansas law requires the state’s health department to write up information on abortion reversal for doctors to make available to patients, and it’s not yet clear if the health department will promote Delgado’s specific method. Meanwhile, Arkansas Right to Life is already promoting the services of doctors who are “trained to effectively reverse” abortions, and more than 200 physicians around the country have told pro-life groups that they are willing to conduct the procedure.