Credit: Unsplash

The problem with abortion reversal pills

By Lydia Fan

The relationship between a Glasgow pro-life group and a promoter of the so-called abortion reversal pill sparked controversy in the university community. The pill isn’t even officially medically recognised, so how did it come to be? 

Former President of the UK Catholic Medical Association and promoter of so-called abortion reversal treatment, Dr Dermot Kearney was invited to Glasgow at the end of last year by pro-life group, Glasgow Students for Life, sparking controversy among some MSPs and those at Glasgow University. 

The abortion reversal treatment was “invented” by Dr. George Delgado, the medical director of Culture of Life Family Service in San Diego. After meeting a woman through an anti abortion activist channel, who was looking to save her pregnancy after entering the first stage of medical termination, Delago found a doctor to prescribe her progesterone. After successfully saving the woman’s child, Delgado started promoting the drug more widely.

The issue is, however, that progesterone is not licensed for use in this instance in the UK. The most recent trial of these abortion reversal drugs was in 2020, and was stopped after three patients suffered severe haemorrhages and required emergency care. Case studies published by Dr Delgado in 2012 and 2018 that he alleged proved the efficacy of the treatment have since been debunked, as they were taken with no control group, and as such cannot be considered scientifically valid or trustworthy. The case studies were highly criticised for being unethical, as they were not supervised by an institutional review board or ethical review committee, which are essential to protect participants in research programmes like Delgado’s. In order to put a halt to the spread of false medical information, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the British Society of Abortion Care Providers (BSACP) have published a joint position statement clearly stating that there is ‘no reputable evidence’ of these pills ability to ‘reverse’ an abortion. In addition to this, and not meeting both the UK and American Medical Associations’ clinical standards, the internationally accredited American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has also been public in its condemnation of the promotion of these so-called abortion reversal drugs, stating a distinct lack of evidence in the claims.  

One may wonder why there were successful cases of reversing abortion if the drug had no medical evidence at all? In 2019, 73% and 82% of abortions in England and Wales and in Scotland respectively were performed with pills, the most widely used form of early medical abortion. These pills are medically valid across the UK and the US, and are recommended by the UK National Institute of Health and Care Excellence and the RCOG. Additionally, they are recognised internationally by various medical institutions. In medication abortion, the patient first consumes mifepristone, which stops the supply of progesterone that maintains the interior of the uterus and promotes the growth of the foetus. Then, they take in misoprostol, which triggers the contraction of the uterus and significantly increases the success rate of abortion. In the case studies undertaken by Dr Delgado, the anti-abortion pills are only effective on people who have not entered the second stage of medical abortion. The intention of taking high doses of progesterone is to reverse the effects of mifepristone. Although the above seems to work theoretically, as mentioned, there is no medical evidence to support this and the last trial was stopped due to patients suffering from severe adverse effects.

Despite receiving heavy condemnation from the medical community, Delgado has not given up in promoting the use of progesterone as an abortion reversal treatment and he had continued to list an alliance with the prestigious US medical school, the University of California San Diego, even after being asked to stop in 2018. Publication of untrue alliances such as these, give false pretences about the safety and medical validity of the drugs, putting patients at risk without their full knowledge. A concerning and significant factor in the small but continued belief in these drugs being safe and ethical, is that Dr Delgado has been receiving assistance in drawing a wider audience from some Republican state legislators, who are campaigning for stricter abortion controls. In 2019, a law was passed in North Dakota that made it a legal requirement for doctors to inform patients that medical abortions are reversible. The state of North Dakota was then sued by the American Medical Association, who condemned them for promoting medical information that “contradicts reality and science”.

Without any supportive evidence of the safety and effectiveness of abortion reversal drugs, no one should be subject to the promotion of them. The relationship between Dr Kearney and Glasgow Students for Life is concerning, and the implications that promoting such drugs could have on students is dire. 

Further trauma, severe illness and threat to life are serious and significant risks to subject people to, the process of going through a pregnancy termination can cause significant trauma to anyone, but for students, the pressure faced from family members, medical professionals and friends has a significant impact on the procedure and the decisions surrounding it. Promoting abortion reversal creates a false sense of reassurance that the decision they make to terminate their pregnancy is reversible, and they can change their mind again if they want to. This is false hope. Not only is the pregnancy unlikely to be saved, but the patient is at risk of severe adverse effects. Regardless of their standpoint on termination, surely Glasgow Students for Life owe more to their peers than working actively with a prominent promoter of such risky treatment. 


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments