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Utah GOP Ignores Science, Advances ‘Abortion Reversal’ Bill (Updated)

Nicole Knight

Utah Republicans, like GOP legislators in Indiana, North Carolina, and four other states, aren't acknowledging information about how medication abortion works.

UPDATE, March 27, 8:40 a.m.: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) on Saturday signed the “abortion reversal” legislation, CBS reported. Utah joins South Dakota and Arkansas in enacting the medically dubious law.

Utah’s Republican-majority house last week passed pseudoscience legislation claiming it’s possible to “reverse” a medication abortion, the latest sign of GOP lawmakers ignoring how medication abortion works.

The legislation’s author conceded in an interview with Utah’s Deseret News, “We’re not doctors,” but his bill, HB 141, would force doctors to “explain the options and consequences of aborting a medication-induced abortion.”

The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Keven Stratton (R-Orem), suggested that 15 percent to 50 percent of fetuses can “survive” the first round of pills taken in a medication abortion, as KUER reported. Stratton appears not to understand how medication abortion works.

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Medication abortion involves taking two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, within a few days of each other. Both pills must be taken for the regimen to be 92 percent to 95 percent effective, according to Food and Drug Administration labeling and the Guttmacher Institute. Among pregnant people who only take mifepristone, the first pill in the regimen, up to half will see their pregnancies continue, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

ACOG in a statement said so-called abortion reversal is “not supported by the body of scientific evidence.”

Proponents of “abortion reversal” ignore this evidence. They claim that taking a large dose of progesterone after the first pill, mifepristone, will undo an abortion. Their basis? A single paper published in 2012 in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy. The paper’s authors claimed to have reversed the medication abortions of four of six women in the study by giving them a large dose of progesterone.

Experts questioned the validity of the study because of the small sample and lack of control group.

“If a woman simply doesn’t take the second pill, the result would be the same (with or without a progesterone shot),” Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at University of California, San Francisco, said in an interview with Salon‘s Amanda Marcotte.

Republicans in North Carolina, Georgia, and Indiana also are advancing “abortion reversal” bills this year. South Dakota and Arkansas—states with GOP-held legislatures—have already enacted “abortion reversal” laws. And anti-choice clinics, such as San Diego’s Culture of Life Family Services, have sprung up in recent years to offer this purported service.

But Arizona doctors called a similar law passed in that state in 2015 “tantamount to quackery.” The law, passed by Arizona’s Republican legislative majority, never went into effect because of a court challenge and was ultimately repealed.

Utah’s Democratic Minority Leader Rep. Brian S. King (Salt Lake City) said, as KUER reported, “It’s simply not sound science that we’re going ahead with this bill if we pass it.”

Stratton, sponsor of the Utah legislation, argued, “This is not a pro-life or a pro-choice bill. This is … informed consent.” Stratton also sponsored a medically dubious 2016 state law requiring doctors to anesthetize a fetus prior to an abortion procedure performed at 20 weeks’ gestation or later.

The abortion reversal measure now heads to the state senate, which is also under GOP control.

Rep. Susan Duckworth (D-Magna) suggested male lawmakers stop trying to dictate women’s health care.

“Not one time have I heard a woman bring an abortion bill to this body,” Duckworth said.

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