There is zero science behind the claim that this is possible.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: You cannot reverse an abortion.
In 2015, a North Carolina doctor claimed he’d invented a means of doing so via an Emergency Abortion Pill Reversal Kit. The method of abortion he was attempting to “reverse” was medical abortion, or that done via the abortion pill. When you take the abortion pill, you start with mifepristone, which blocks progesterone in your body (progesterone is the hormone that facilitates the progression of pregnancy). You’ll take another pill, misoprostol, 6-48 hours after the mifepristone, which will cause cramping, bleeding, and ultimately, the passing of pregnancy tissue.
When we talk about “reversing” abortion (again, not a thing), we’re talking about a tactic involving the introduction of progesterone after the mifepristone, and not taking the second pill. Those who claim this process is valid and plausible, believe this process will increase the chance that the pregnancy will remain intact.
There’s no scientific evidence to support the claim that abortion can be reversed. A report (which involved no ethical oversight or control group and therefore render it scientifically useless) published in 2012 relied on the experiences of 6 women, 4 of whom carried their pregnancies to term after being injected with progesterone after taking mifepristone.
The idea that you can reverse an abortion is a direct result of the perpetuation of abortion stigma, which causes many to see abortion as dangerous to one’s mental and physical health and immoral, and allows non scientific claims like this to reach the point where they’re actually being used to create public policy. In 2017, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that would force doctors to tell patients seeking abortion that there is an “option” for reversing medical abortion. As of this writing, nursing regulators in California continue to vacillate on whether or not to offer a class on reversing abortion for continuing education credit.
What’s happening when we tell a patient we can reverse an abortion is not just giving credence to pseudoscience, but it’s also “crazy unethical,” says Dr. Leah Torres, an OB/GYN in Utah. “We don’t know what happens to babies who have been exposed to an abortifacient. It’s human experimentation. It violates so many medical ethics and humans rights, I don’t even know where to start.”
While we know that most people who seek abortion are highly confident in their decision and do not ultimately regret it, the claim that abortion is reversible targets those who might be unsure of the future of their pregnancies. Sarah, a Certified Nurse Midwife, cites crisis pregnancy centers as sites where abortion reversal might be cited as a valid option. “It becomes one more emotional lever,” she said. “If people are already struggling with the decision, and they’re being manipulated, they can be emotionally traumatized by a false sense of hope.”
“I was 21 when I first got pregnant and making the decision to abort was excruciatingly painful,” Jude, who had two abortions in her 20’s (she’s now in her 50s) told me. “It was 1969 and abortion was illegal and dangerous. The abortion was the right decision and I thank myself even now for having the courage to let that baby go. But at the time, I was terrified and ambivalent. I would not have coped well with someone offering to reverse the effects once I’d taken it. The last thing I would have needed would be a last-minute attempt to reverse it.”
“One of my nightmares is that I perform an abortion that someone didn’t want,” says Torres. “If you start any medical procedure without being sure that it’s what the patient wants, that’s malpractice. That’s true for a c-section, a hysterectomy, and an abortion.” Instead of telling someone they can change their mind after the fact, she urges practitioners to make sure their patients want to go through any procedure in the first place.
The claim of abortion reversal is another tactic of the anti-choice movement to limit abortion access, and to capitalize on the belief that those seeking abortion haven’t really thought about it and will ultimately regret it. The result is an attempt to intervene during medical abortion with a procedure that’s unproven to be successful, could be dangerous to the person seeking the abortion, and, as Ruth Graham reported in her 2017 piece on abortion reversal in the New York Times Magazine, “affects the reputation of the abortion pill.”
In order to prevent the junk science that is abortion pill reversal from further impacting those who seek abortion, Leah Torres recommends contacting Senators and Congressmen, and not just once. “Keep calling them,” she says. ” If you feel like you’re not being heard, go to their offices in person, call your local newspapers. Tell them you don’t want to be experimented on, and you don’t want that for other people, either.”