Utah lawmakers are trying to force doctors to tell patients some abortions are reversible

A group of women attending a protest against doctors who tell patients some abortions are reversible

Just a few months after enacting a law that requires people to undergo "fetal anesthesia" for abortions after 20 weeks gestation, Utah lawmakers are back at it again. Two Republican state legislators have reportedly proposed a new measure that would require physicians to tell patients they might be able to reverse drug-induced abortions — a claim that is, much like the fetal painkiller law, based on unsubstantiated scientific research.  

State Rep. Keven Stratton and Sen. Curt Bramble, the pair of non-scientists currently drafting the proposal, have asserted that people should be informed that medication abortion, a two-pill regimen that induces miscarriage, can sometimes be undone by taking a large dose of the hormone progesterone after the first pill. Medical experts, however, say this is unlikely, and add the effects of taking progesterone after the first abortion pill are unknown.

As is the case with most medically inaccurate abortion restrictions, however, Stratton and Bramble believe the measure will help patients make more informed decisions about their reproductive health — something about which neither lawmaker knows a ton, Deseret News reported.

"We're not doctors," Stratton said. "We're trying to formulate good policy."

Rick Bowmer/AP

Scientific research would suggest otherwise. The evidence supporting the possibility of reversing a medication abortion, which involves taking the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol in that order, is hardly sound; for one thing, it's based largely on the work of one doctor. In a 2012 article, the California-based physician Dr. George Delgado described the effects of giving six pregnant women varying amounts of progesterone after they took mifepristone, but before they would have taken misoprostol,  to see if the hormone could counteract the effects of the drug. Four of the women involved went on to have healthy babies. 

The study, however, has not held up to later trials of abortion reversal methods, and has since been criticized for its low ethical standards and lack of controls. According to a report from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "there are no ACOG guidelines that support" so-called reversal techniques, which lack the necessary evidence to support their efficacy and are not approved by the FDA

That hasn't stopped several states from passing abortion reversal laws, though. Should Utah approve Stratton and Bramble's measure during the upcoming legislative session, the state would join South Dakota, Arkansas and Arizona in enacting such legislation. Only Arizona's law, which was signed in 2015, has been challenged in court successfully; the measure was killed in August after doctors called it "tantamount to quackery." 

"That is not how science works," Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN and reproductive rights activist, said of abortion reversal in an interview with Deseret News. "That's not how you should practice medicine."

Describing the possibility of abortion reversal isn't the only flavor of medically inaccurate or unnecessary (mis)information providers are required to share with patients. Anti-choice lawmakers across the country have passed targeted restrictions of abortion providers (known as TRAP laws) mandating everything from extraneous ultrasounds to biased counseling sessions to mandatory waiting periods, all in an apparent effort to coerce people not to terminate their pregnancies. Some of the more extreme measures, including a 2013 Texas law that shuttered half of the abortion clinics in the state, have been ruled unconstitutional — but that's yet to happen with the fallacy of abortion reversal.