Misinformation Is Spreading Online About Abortion PIll 'Reversal'—But Experts Say It's Unproven and Dangerous

Social media content and advertisements promote a process that experts say is simply unsafe.

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The spread of misinformation on social media is hardly a news story anymore. It's been a well-documented challenge in recent years. But a growing number of Facebook advertisements and social media posts promoting an "abortion pill reversal" procedure has become particularly worrisome.

The social media ads and posts tout a procedure that promises to reverse the effects of taking the abortion pill— which, according to medical professionals and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say is a claim that's not based on science and is extremely dangerous.

"Frankly, no, it is not possible to reverse the abortion pill," said Siripanth Nippita, MD, director of family planning in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health. "You risk having pretty significant bleeding if you [do not complete the abortion pill process]."

Here's a look at fact versus fiction when it comes to the abortion pill and how it works.

How Does The Abortion Pill Work?

The abortion pill has several steps and requires two different medications, according to Planned Parenthood. The first is a pill called mifepristone, which stops a pregnancy from growing by blocking the hormone progesterone. Mifepristone has been safe and legal in the United States since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it 20 years ago.

The second medicine that is part of the abortion pill process is called misoprostol, which can be taken up to 48 hours after the first pill. The second pill causes cramping and bleeding in order to empty the uterus. This phase may last for several hours and people finish passing the pregnancy tissue anywhere between four to five hours. But there are occasions when it can take longer.

The abortion pill can be used in the first 11 weeks of pregnancy and has been shown to be a safe and effective evidence-based regimen, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Misinformation About Reversal of Abortion Pill Process

The misinformation being disseminated through social media advertisements and content includes claims that the medication abortion process can be reversed. The ads and posts assert that this can be done by not taking the second pill that's part of the medication abortion process—misoprostol. And instead, reversal advocates recommend taking doses of progesterone, a hormone that promotes the growth of a fetus.

One website linked from a Facebook ad states that reversal can be effective up to 72 hours after an individual has taken the first abortion pill, with a 64% to 68% success rate.

An advocacy article posted by ACOG describes the so-called abortion pill reversal procedure that's being promoted online as "unproven and unethical." The professional organization says claims that the abortion pill process can be reversed are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards. The ACOG advocacy article goes on to emphasize that—based on scientific evidence—the professional organization does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medication abortion.

"Despite this, in states across the country, politicians are advancing legislation to require physicians to recite a script that a medication abortion can be "reversed" with doses of progesterone, to cause confusion and perpetuate stigma, and to steer women to this unproven medical approach," says the ACOG article. "Unfounded legislative mandates like this one represent dangerous political interference and compromise patient care and safety.

Dr. Nippita supports the ACOG position, pointing out that attempting to reverse the abortion pill process is simply not safe.

"The second pill causes the uterus to contract, and to do so in a predictable way," said Dr. Nippita. "[To skip the second pill] runs the risk of having pretty significant bleeding if you do not go through with it."

Claims that the abortion pill process can be reversed have primarily been led by George Delgado, a medical doctor who is an acknowledged anti-abortion activist, according to Planned Parenthood. In recent years, his unproven concept of abortion reversal has been introduced into legislatures across the country by those opposed to legal abortion.

In 2015, Arizona became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring that abortion pill providers tell patients that medication abortions could be "reversed."

"A number of other states have since followed suit, despite the lack of evidence," according to Planned Parenthood.

Scant Evidence Supporting Reversal Claims

In its article addressing the misinformation surrounding abortion pill reversal, the ACOG pointed to a 2012 case series that involved six women who took mifepristone and then were administered varying progesterone doses. Four of these women continued their pregnancies, but the ACOG pointed out that there is no evidence that progesterone had anything to do with this.

"This study was not supervised by an institutional review board or an ethical review committee, required to protect human research subjects, raising serious questions regarding the ethics and scientific validity of the results," says the ACOG article.

A 2020 study was then conducted in a controlled, IRB-approved setting, but was shut down because of safety concerns among the participants who were receiving the progesterone.

"There is no medical evidence to support the assertion that a medication abortion can be 'reversed' if someone is given a high dose of progesterone after taking mifepristone," according to a Planned Parenthood information sheet that was issued on the topic. "The treatment...as well as the legislative efforts requiring health care providers to inform people seeking abortion of that treatment, are not evidence-based."

Continued Spread of Misinformation

The need for accurate information is always vital. But especially in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. When reproductive education and reproductive rights are being stripped away, the need for the truth remains more important than ever. At the moment however, the online misinformation campaigns are hindering an individual's ability to get accurate information about abortions and to do so in a timely manner.

A research article on the topic of abortion pill information available online found that the majority of the websites that Google provides when one searches for "abortion pill" provide a variety of disinformation.

If you have any questions about the medical abortion pill or how the process works, the first step is to reach out to a qualified medical provider. It's also important to understand that there is no need to rush when making a decision about whether to pursue a medication abortion, said Dr. Nippita.

"Because medication abortion is available and safe, people should take the time they need to make the decision and really be sure about it before they start the process. If they are not sure about it, they should wait," said Dr. Nippita. "This is a really important decision for people. There is time to make the decision, so take that time. We as the abortion providers are here to help."

In the meantime, the ACOG is calling upon politicians to stop playing a role in the spread of misinformation.

"Politicians should never mandate treatments or require that physicians tell patients inaccurate information. This is an interference in the patient-clinical relationship and contradicts a fundamental principle of medical ethics," said the ACOG. "Abortion is an essential part of comprehensive medical care, and a patient's decision to end a pregnancy following appropriate consultation with their trusted medical professional should be treated with respect."

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