Billboards about abortion are nothing new, but one message in particular has Planned Parenthood staff a little worried.
Billboards like this one, pictured right outside Planned Parenthood’s St. Paul clinic, are arresting and lacking context, though it's clear whose attention they're trying to get. They just say, “AbortionPillReversal.com,” list a number to call, and the caption: “It may not be too late!”
Pro-Life Action Ministries-St. Paul explains the ad, which the organization paid for in January, in greater detail in this blog post. (Pro-Life Action didn’t respond to interview requests). According to the Minnesota Department of Health, some 40 percent of abortions performed in our state in 2017 were induced via medication rather than surgery.
“That means nearly half the abortion clients leaving [Planned Parenthood] have just taken the abortion pill,” the blog post puts it, less than delicately. This, the post continues, means there is a “possibility of reversing the process and saving the baby’s life” if the client calls the number listed on the billboard or visits its website.
Both will direct one to an organization called Abortion Pill Rescue, which promises to connect clients to medical professionals who can “reverse” the effects of pill-induced abortion. The outfit claims a “64-68 percent” success rate, and its website’s FAQs assure the treatment has been backed by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG, we suppose?)—given “appropriate informed consent” comes first.
What it doesn’t mention is why procedures like this one are currently at the heart of a heated national debate. AAPLOG may support them, but larger, more legitimate medical bodies—like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) —don’t.
In order to terminate a pregnancy with meds, a patient is supposed to take two pills: mifepristone, which blocks hormones in order to halt the growth of the fetus, and misoprostol, which makes the patient’s uterus contract and expel the fetus. (For the unfamiliar, this process is far different from emergency contraception, aka the “morning-after pill.”)
The pro-lifers' attempt at "reversal" has the patient take progesterone to counteract the mifepristone and skip the misoprostol altogether. It’s based on the work of George Delgado, a medical adviser for the Abortion Pill Rescue Network. He published his first study on the treatment in 2012 and co-authored a second in 2018.
Delgado’s studies failed to meet clinical standards because they lacked one key scientific element: a control group. None of the patients Delgado observed took misoprostol, which means we have no way of knowing if the progesterone increased the success rate at all.
That, plus the small sample size and the lack of an ethics review committee, posed serious concerns about the treatment’s efficacy. The national congress of OBGYNs has condemned the studies as “among the weakest forms of medical evidence.”
And a recent study in Obstetrics and Gynecology (which included a “double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial") encountered another wrinkle. The researchers planned to study 40 patients, but stopped at 12 for “safety reasons,” including “nausea,” “vomiting,” “bleeding,” and in the case of three patients, “severe hemorrhage requiring ambulance transport to hospital.” One had received progesterone, and two had received a placebo.
“We halted enrollment after the third hemorrhage,” the study says.
The reason the American Medical Association, which normally stays out of reproductive rights battles, is getting involved at all is because several states across the country (including Oklahoma, North Dakota, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Nebraska) have passed laws requiring doctors to inform their patients about this procedure in the past year.
“We will not sit idly when there is any intrusion on the patient-physician relationship or our ability to give our patients that information they trust us to give,” AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris told Frontline.
Nicole Chaisson, regional associated medical director for Planned Parenthood, says Minnesota is fortunate that legislation hasn’t been attempted in our state. As long as that billboard looms outside the clinic, patients are still being “targeted,” Chaisson says, and potentially exposed to “unnecessary and unproven” claims.
“Patients should be trusting what their providers are offering them,” she says.