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What is really going on behind the so called Abortion Pill Reversal “controversy”?

You may have come across headlines over recent weeks describing UK based doctors under investigation for prescribing “unproven and experimental” treatments to stop the effects of medical abortion drugs.

The Abortion Pill Rescue Program that has successfully saved 38 women’s babies (out of 73) since it began last year, has been forcibly halted by medical authorities, after Open Democracy reported them to the General Medical Council in early April.  Their website has been closed and both doctors are currently under investigation.

The two doctors in question have been named and shamed in a Guardian article which claims these pills are “unethical” and can lead to severe haemorrhaging and hospitalisation, with no mention whatsoever, that this is what abortion pills do anyway.  

The following article examines the facts behind these reversal pills and seeks to go beneath the surface of the headlines to explain why these two medical professionals are being barbarised so badly in the media. 

In order to do this we will need to deal with some context. Then we will address the main objections to the service before exposing the core reality of this unravelling drama. 

Who are these doctors?

If you were to call the Abortion Rescue Pill service, in the days before it was halted, you would have spoken to one of two seasoned medical professionals, Dr Eileen Riley, Gynecologist and Obstetrician in Scotland, or Dr Dermot Kearney, a cardiologist at a large UK hospital. I know them both. They are compassionate and caring individuals, and I can say with confidence, these are not renegade extremists, but well integrated NHS professionals, using their spare time and medical know-how to help women deeply regretting a medical abortion decision. 

They are both Catholics, and members of the Catholic Medical Association (which Dermot used to head up), neither are ashamed of this fact, nor should they be. The association exists to help doctors “integrate their faith with their clinical practice”, which is exactly what both these doctors were attempting to do. In this regard I would deem them examples to be emulated and not avoided.

How do the pills work?

The abortion reversal pill is simply a large dose of progesterone: a female sex hormone crucial during pregnancy. This pill can be taken orally or vaginally.  By flooding the women’s body with the hormone the mother and doctor aim to counter the blocking effects of the first abortion pill, mifepristone.  If it is successful the baby will continue to grow and develop, if it is unsuccessful the woman will miscarry due to the effects of the first pill.  The common side effects of the progesterone pill are mild, and include tiredness and nausea, not uncommon to the typical experience of first trimester pregnancy. The pill does not cause haemorrhaging, although obviously if it is unsuccessful a haemorrhage can result. The pill is also used routinely in IVF clinics to help with the fertility process. 

How the Abortion Rescue Service runs?

Were you to contact the doctors through the service, they would have assessed your situation over the phone in order to make a clinical judgment as to whether treatment would be appropriate. Pending that information they may ask you to fill out a consent form followed by prescribing you progesterone pills. These can be collected from a local pharmacy, to be administered at home. They will then follow you up respectfully, with texts and calls until you break off contact. Women who have used the service have testified that Dr Dermont not only kept in good contact but even offered to pay for follow up scans, at personal expense.  It is noteworthy that this is a higher level of interpersonal engagement, with higher ranking medical professionals, than the abortion industry currently provides their clients, who are requested to self refer to A&E in the event of complications. Read full transcripts of patient advice here. 

How licensing works?

In the UK all drugs need to be licensed with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory

Agency (MHRA). Being licensed means that they have been checked for quality, safety and efficacy and analysed using scientific studies and clinical trials. The MHRA then provides marketing authorisation also known as a product license. This stipulates how the drug is to be used, in what dosage and in some cases how it is to be stored and how the records need to be kept. Ideally all medicines should be used in tight reference to these stipulations. 

However, doctors in the UK also have a legal right to use any medicine that they judge to be appropriate for the patient in their clinical judgement and so can use a medicine which is licensed for one purpose, for another unlicensed purpose if they believe that it might be beneficial.  Medicines can also be used at a dosage beyond that stated in the licence. 

If a doctor were to undertake this they have to assume clinical and legal responsibility for the consequences of their actions. In many cases, the employers (e.g. a hospital trust) may agree to allow their prescribers to prescribe “off-label” for specific situations. The employer then assumes liability. Nonetheless, it is considered good practice to have the informed consent of the patient concerned.   

Therefore, while Dr Dermot and Dr Eileen were prescribing progesterone “off label” they were well within their legal rights to do so.  

Unfair objections

The main reason to discredit these pills in the headlines (supplied by Open democracy) is to claim that either there is little or no evidence that these pills are effective, or to suggest that they are dangerous. The RCOG  spokesperson did just that in this Daily Mail piece when they stated:

"There is very little evidence to show that a treatment with progesterone will reverse an abortion, and what this is doing is providing false reassurance to women that this is a possible option – which is very distressing for the women involved."

“Not enough evidence”

Data may be in short supply in the UK but not in the States. This US study from 2018, assessed 754 patients who took these pills, found that it had a 68% success rate if taken orally within 6 hours of taking the first abortion pill. It is ironic and revealing, that a new life saving initiative should be promptly closed due to lack of national evidence, when keeping it going is the only way to collect such evidence.  While it may not be unreasonable to request evidence in the UK, as UK patients may differ materially from US ones (and it would be well worth Dr Dermot and Dr Eileen conducting a proper clinical trial if and when they get a chance), it is unreasonable that those seeking to reverse abortion appear to be being held to higher standards then those seeking to expand it. 

The international abortion industry, which views medical abortions as the future have long since been experimenting on women in the developing world. In Burkina Faso, Columbia, Mexico, and Vietnam, chemical abortion trials have been conducted in the second trimester,  when currently these drugs are only licensed universally for first trimester pregnancies, and no one blinks an eye lid. 

Even more compelling than this, in the UK in the last year we know of at least 52 women who have taken medical abortion pills beyond the 10 week gestational limit, some far beyond. This not only holds ramifications for the law but also for the licence of abortion drugs limited to 9 weeks or 63 days. 

Yet, following these breaches in the law and the drug licence, these services have not been halted by medical authorities, nor have doctors been publicly investigated. Quite the opposite in fact. At home abortions may even become permanent after lockdown. 

Illegal and unlicensed abortions, no one cares. Two faithful Catholics seek to offer mothers legal and unlicensed pills to prevent abortion and the kitchen sink is thrown at them. Something is off here!

“Pills are dangerous”

A second objection to the pills is the claim that a progesterone pill is dangerous.

Caroline Gazet, UK clinical director at MSI Reproductive Choices, speaking to Open Democracy stated: 

“It is not safe to prescribe progesterone as so-called abortion reversal. There’s no evidence that it works, it can cause harm, and it can lead to haemorrhage.”

The evidence that is routinely cited to back this claim is the 2019 “double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial” that was designed to test the effectiveness of these pills on 40 patients. However, the experiment was halted due to “safety concerns”  after 3 patients were hospitalised.

Sounds bad and it is. But it gets worse when you realise 2 of these 3 patients were in the placebo group and were by far worse affected. That means they never took the reversal pill and yet experienced extreme complications.  Both required emergency hospitalisation for heavy bleeding and a suction abortion to remove the baby (we don’t know whether they were alive or dead). One required a blood transfusion.

This paper, aside from the fact that it only had 12 people, a pitifully small number for a randomised trial, inadvertently proves that mifepristone alone is dangerous, and induces haemorrhage, not progesterone. 

This is further backed up by grass roots data gathered from NHS hospitals earlier this year showing that the complication rate for medical abortions at home including haemorrhaging, uterine perferation or sepsis, was 5 times higher than the yearly, affecting 7.5 women in every 1,000. We also know of 500 women attending A and E each month due to incomplete abortion following the taking of these pills, with 250 requiring surgical interventions. Just one FOI request to a central London hospital detailed 7 women suffering complications having taken these pills. Two required blood transfusions because the bleeding was so heavy. 

The wrongful attempt to accredit abortion pill reversal pills with the side effects of the first abortion pill mifepristone is an insidious lie that needs to be exposed.

At the very least a properly designed study is required as soon as possible. 

"Women are falling 'victim' to these doctors"

The most extreme allegation to be leveled at the service is to suggest that vulnerable pregnant women are actually being exploited by these doctors. This objection comes from a UN subcommittee, of all places. Melissa Upreti, vice chair of the UN working group on discrimination against women and girls (also known as CEDEW), also speaking to Open Democracy stated:

“Women who have been misled and subjected to medically dangerous procedures to supposedly reverse their abortions must be provided with appropriate medical assistance, options for legal recourse and reparations for the emotional and physical suffering caused to them. There can be no doubt that women are the victims here.”

A month after Dr Dermot was discredited in a Daily Mail article, the same publication ran a second more favourable story including the testimonies of women who had been treated by Dr Dermot. Far from chiming in with Miss Upreti’s accusation, Laura and Rachel (not real names) tell a very different tale.

Both women describe the turmoil they were in before and after taking abortion pills and  testified how Dr Dermot had promptly responded to calls and had given honest clinical advice. 

Laura said he was “great” and “so supportive” . Rachel described Dr Dermot as “kind and patient” and said “he also offered to pay for the private prescription and for a private scan to check for a heartbeat”. This is not the feedback you would expect from so called “victims”

Rachel also indicated that she was by no means misled before she consented to the reversal process stating: 

He explained bleeding was a possible side effect, and that the baby may not survive as I'd taken the pill. The progesterone was most likely to be effective within 24 hours.” 

She finished her interview. “I believe women need to have this chance.”

Both babies have now been delivered safely and without harm. 

Even when the baby does not survive, Dr Dermot, writing in a pre-release to a report he plans to give at the Catholic Medical Association later this year, states: 

“It is our experience that  the mothers concerned are always very grateful that somebody has tried to help them in their hour of need”

Far from exploiting women, the available testimony suggests that this service empowers them  and cares for them better than the abortion industry does. 

“US Christian right"

For all the attempts by Open Democracy to smear and associate the doctors with “the US Christian right” it is telling that both women mentioned above, stated that he “didn’t mention religion”.

"Experimental equals unethical"

One final accusation leveled at the two doctors is that because these drugs are unlicensed or “experimental” then they must in the same breath be wrong or unethical.  This does not follow for two reasons. Firstly, as all students of medical history will know, all drugs have to be tested at some point, and secondly there already exists evidence in the UK and the US that these pills are effective and safe. 

So what’s really going on?

The UK Abortion industry are currently working their socks off to secure DIY permanent abortion in the UK. In order to do this they need to persuade policy makers and MPs, and the public, that killing one's own child in the “comfort” of your own home is a fantastic idea. A recent open letter sent to health ministers by a large pro-abortion partnership attempts to do just this. It claims DIY abortion over lockdown has been “overwhelmingly positive”, with a dazzling set of in-house statistics to prove it.

If simultaneous to this, a large number of stories were to get out about women regretting their decision or reversing it, despite abortion providers telling them not to, this would cause untold havoc to this narrative, along with the aims and aspirations of the abortion industry. 

It is no surprise therefore that Open Democracy, who received over £180,000 in Open Society George Soros’ grants in 2020, was prepared to release its hounds.  After all Soros, along with other members of the billionaire elite, have made population control and abortion their philanthropic quest.  To reverse abortions is to increase the life span of the problem, and must be discredited at all costs. 

Most awkwardly of all, a medically approved abortion pill reversal service would call into fundamental question what is being ended and what is being reversed. 

After all, a desperate mother regretting her abortion decision does not fundamentally seek to save her bump, pregnancy, nausea, or cravings. These physical features alone are hardly desirable. Instead she seeks to save the human baby she now realises she loves and knows she is harming. Knowing that removing the idea that abortion is “final” would be of great comfort to many women, you would have thought that the abortion industry would champion such a regime, as part of giving ultimate “choice” to women?

The fact that they don’t, but seek to close them down (with help from their allies in the media and the Royal Colleges) is yet another true indicator of where their priorities really lie. Not evidence, not choice, but abortion.

The very fact that these poor doctors -who have had their reputations trashed- have exposed this is quite incredible and should motivate the rest of us to not only get this service back up and running, but see it expanded and endorsed by the NHS.

If you are a medical doctor and wish to help in this regard, please get in touch [email protected]

Special thanks must be given to Christians in Pharmacy for their help in contributing technical detail and drafting this article.