First clinically sound abortion reversal study only enrolled 12 of 40 patients; three women went to emergency room
A UC Davis Health study run by OB/GYN Dr. Mitchell D. Creinin that attempted to discern the safety of “abortion reversal” treatments ended abruptly in December when three patients experienced serious bleeding that sent them to the hospital. Researchers planned to enroll 40 patients, but only 12 had been enrolled when the study was stopped, according to an NPR report.
The study focused on stopping medication abortions, which can be done up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. Women take two pills consecutively, and if the second pill — which forces the uterus to push out the pregnancy — is not taken, there is a chance that pregnancy can continue. In the study, which was double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized, women did not take the second pill.
Though bleeding is normal in a medication abortion, there usually is not a need to head to the emergency room. But Creinin said one woman who went to the hospital needed a transfusion, with others terrified by the amount of blood.
“I feel really horrible that the women had to go through this,” he said.
The study was backed by a grant from the Society of Family Planning and had been registered with the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Though Creinin said he did not necessarily believe the study would not work, he wanted to carry it out for the possibility that it could.
Third-year managerial economics major Karan Brar, who supports the pro-life movement, said the study was important because if such procedures are possible, they give women more choices if they change their mind about abortion.
“We definitely shouldn’t be instituting policies like that if they put women’s health in danger,” Brar said. “That’s counterintuitive to the pro-life movement.”
Brar also added that abortion reversal studies are important scientific contributions.
“Studies like these are important, not specifically for instituting pro-life policies, but allowing us to expand our knowledge of the human body,” he said. “We can understand where the cut-off point is when it comes to abortion.”
Third-year pharmaceutical chemistry major Molly Mermin, a supporter of the pro-choice movement, said the study “legitimizes the idea that abortions can be reversed, even though the studies show that abortions cannot be reversed safely.”
The abortion reversal procedure came from two studies authored by Dr. George Delgado in 2012 and 2018, where he found that patients who did not take the second drug in the regimen were unable to successfully carry their pregnancies to term. In the most recent study, which followed 547 women, nearly half of them had successful births. Unlike Creinin’s study, both of Delgado’s studies lacked proper sample group sizes and a control group.
This year, five states — Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and North Dakota — passed legislation mandating that abortion providers present abortion reversal as a legitimate, effective option. The laws have faced contention, as in North Dakota, where such legislation was ruled “devoid of scientific support, misleading, and untrue.”
The study’s results add to the growing body of knowledge about medication abortions, which are becoming increasingly used: In 2017, 39% of abortions were medication abortions. Medication abortions are also coming to the UC Davis campus and all public California universities in 2023.
Mermin said that one benefit of the study — and the laws that have been founded on Delgado’s research — is that it can draw attention to the harm these laws can cause.
“These sorts of laws are providing medical misinformation, and that isn’t always talked about in regards to reproductive rights and laws surrounding abortion,” she said. “Abortion is a safe procedure if done as prescribed legally, but if you tell patients it’s possible to reverse it, you could further harm them.”
Creinin and his colleagues plan to publish their concerns in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in January.
“Patients in early pregnancy who use only mifepristone may be at high risk of significant hemorrhage,” they wrote.
Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — firstname.lastname@example.org