NEW ORLEANS, LA — Attendees of the annual Right to Life Convention listened in awe as a California doctor told them about the “new science” behind his abortion pill reversal technique, a procedure that he claims has reversed more than 100 women’s abortions.
For the first time this year, two states — Arizona and Arkansas — passed legislation requiring doctors to inform patients about the availability of the reversal technique. But not all abortion opponents support the practice, which is only documented in one flawed study. GOP presidential candidate and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson told ThinkProgress that as a doctor, he couldn’t advocate for a technique will so little scientific evidence to support it.
“Generally speaking, the scientific method requires accumulating data, accumulating evidence and making sure that it’s statistically significant,” he said.
Carson is hardly a pro-choice advocate — during his speech to the Right to Life Convention, he discussed how his medical background has given him experience administering ultrasounds. “How can anyone think that’s just a mass of cells?” he said. He has also compared abortion to slavery and human sacrifice. But the new abortion legislation being passed this session is extreme even for him.
Dr. George Delgado developed the abortion pill reversal method, which involves administering progesterone within a few days to reverse the effects of the first medication, mifepristone, in the two-step abortion pill process. He has been criticized for advocating junk science — his only published scientific journal article looking at the procedure was published in 2012 and documents just six subjects with no control group.
According to Dr. David Grimes, the former chief of the abortion surveillance branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the tiny sample size and lack of a control group limit any usefulness of Delgado’s study. “Rather than a formal study, [Delgado’s] article is an incompletely documented collection of anecdotes from Catholic physicians who tried to counter the effects of mifepristone, used in medication abortion, by administering progesterone,” Grimes wrote in RH Reality Check.
Other health care professionals claim that a woman is just as likely to reverse her abortion if she takes just mifepristone, the first abortion pill which cuts of the food supply to the fetus, and does not take the second pill, misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract and to expel its contents.
Slate’s Amanda Marcotte spoke with Dr. Daniel Grossman, a vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, who said last December that mifepristone “by itself is not an effective abortion regimen” and many women who take just the first pill will not miscarry if they choose not to take the second.
Opponents are currently fighting Arizona’s law in court under First Amendment grounds, arguing the law forces doctors to lie to patients.
Delgado told ThinkProgress he plans on publishing more evidence in the coming months, but to date, his claim that he has helped more than 100 women with a 55 to 60 percent success rate is unsubstantiated.