After a North Dakota judge nixed part of a new law requiring doctors to inform their patients about abortion pill reversal, pro-life advocates say they hope the decision will be overturned.
“While this is a disservice to women, who have a right to this information, we're hopeful that Attorney General Stenehjem will appeal and defend this common-sense law. Women have a right to know,” Medora Nagle, Executive Director of North Dakota Right to Life, told CNA.
U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland granted a preliminary injunction Sept. 10 against part of a North Dakota law which would have required physicians to tell their patients that a medically-induced abortion could be reversed if the patient acted quickly.
The injunction was sought by the American Medical Association, Access Independent Health Services, Inc., Dr. Kathryn L. Eggleston, and Red River Women's Clinic, which is the only clinic providing abortions in the state.
"Legislation which forces physicians to tell their patients, as part of informed consent, that 'it may be possible' to reverse or cure an ailment, disease, illness, surgical procedure, or the effects of any medication—in the absence of any medical or scientific evidence to support such a message—is unsound, misplaced, and would not survive a constitutional challenge under any level of scrutiny," Hovland said in his decision.
A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.
Several pro-life clinics throughout the country provide abortion pill reversals, a protocol that involves giving pregnant women who regret their decision to take the first drug doses of progesterone to counteract the progesterone-blocking effects of the mifepristone.
Teresa Kenney is a women's health nurse practitioner with the Sancta Familia (Holy Family) Medical Apostolate in Omaha, Nebraska. Kenney told CNA that because progesterone is safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies, and the benefit of reversing a medical abortion is so great, the procedure “makes complete sense” from a scientific standpoint.
“If I give a medicine that decreases or blocks progesterone to stop a pregnancy, then it makes perfect logical medical sense to give progesterone to help reverse that,” Kenney told CNA.
“The benefit is overwhelmingly positive,” she added, “and in this situation...I would argue that two lives are actually saved when it works, because not only do you save the life of the baby, and that's a human life being saved...but you also save the life of the mother in the sense that when she has made a choice that she deeply regrets, and we have now given her the opportunity to emotionally and physically change that choice, and it succeeds, we've saved her life too.”
Kenney said that progesterone has been scientifically proven to be safe for women and their babies in early pregnancy to prevent natural miscarriages from occurring.
“Just because there hasn't been a randomized controlled double-blind study on abortion pill reversal doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to implement it in medicine, because there is already scientific support for progesterone in early pregnancy in the prevention and miscarriage,” she said.
“Do we need more research? Absolutely. But to withhold treatment when, again, we know that it does no harm...we know that it medically makes sense, it scientifically makes sense, and the benefits are overwhelmingly positive, why wouldn't we do it?” she said.
Kenney said that she finds it “frustrating” that there has been a lot of research and effort in the medical community to prevent pregnancy, but not as much to support it.
“We do live in a contraceptive society,” she said. “We have a culture against life. And so all of the studies are geared towards preventing pregnancy.”
Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said Sept. 10 that “North Dakota legislators rightly believed that women should know about the procedure before starting the abortion process.”
He stated, “the abortion lobby co-opted the American Medical Association and used legal technicalities and medical complexities to deny women the right to know. We applaud the legislators who overwhelming supported HB 1336, Governor Burgum for signing the measure, the physicians who submitted testimony to the court in support of the law, and the Attorney General for defending women’s rights.”
One pro-life clinic that offers abortion pill reversal is Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colorado.
Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella, told CNA in 2018 that because progesterone is known to be safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, the progesterone abortion pill reversal procedure is “common sense.”
A recent study, published in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.
Both procedures significantly improved the 25 percent fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.
The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that supports the abortion pill procedure reversal.
Nagle said that women should be empowered by the law, and that they should be given “all of the information before making a decision of this magnitude.”
According to Nagle, seven other states have similar laws on the books requiring doctors to tell their patients about the abortion pill reversal procedure, which she said has saved more than 750 babies so far.
“We won't be discouraged,” she said. “We will continue to fight for women's rights to be given all of the information.”