Abortion ‘reversal’ bill moves to House floor

BOISE — The House State Affairs Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would require doctors to inform women seeking medical abortions about a scientifically unvetted medical procedure that purports to allow such abortions to be “reversed.”

The bill’s backers argue the procedure will allow a woman to attempt to stop the abortion process if she changes her mind between the time she takes a first drug used in a medical abortion and the time she takes a second drug. The bill’s detractors say it will mandate that doctors give information to patients that isn’t supported by science and poses unknown risks to the woman.

Dr. Matthew Harrison, a physician with the company Abortion Pill Reversal, which created the procedure, testified that the procedure works and doesn’t present risks to the mother.

“Abortion reversal is supported by science and is safe and effective,” Harrison said.

Outside scientific reviews haven’t agreed with that statement.

The scientific reviews that have been completed to date haven’t found strong evidence that taking high-dose progesterone increases the likelihood that pregnancy will continue after the first of two drugs, mifepristone, has been taken. That drug blocks progesterone, a key hormone in pregnancy, and on its own will sometimes, but not always, result in abortion. It is generally followed by another drug called misoprostol, which induces contractions.

Scientific reviewers criticized the single case study as poorly performed, and said it wasn’t clear how the sample of patients had been selected. That’s important because it doesn’t allow objective comparisons between the sample studied in that case and the general population of women seeking medical abortions. The very small sample size — seven women started the study and six completed it — also inhibits drawing any reliable conclusions about the effectiveness and safety of administering high-dose progesterone to women after they have received mifepristone.

Harrison told the committee that a larger study has recently been completed and will be published in May. He claimed it, along with another paper he has authored, will give compelling evidence that the procedure increases the number of pregnancies that continue and doesn’t result in health harms to the woman or serious birth defects in the child.

The use of high-dose progesterone to halt an abortion is an “off-label” use, meaning it uses an FDA-approved drug in a manner that hasn’t been specifically approved by the FDA. Off-label prescription drug use is legal in the U.S. and fairly common with a variety of drugs. The Idaho Medical Association, which represents doctors around the state, took a neutral stance on the bill.

Mistie Tolman, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as well as other health care services, said her group opposes the bill.

“Senate Bill 1243 interferes with the ability of providers to use their professional skill and judgment to provide patients with information that is medically and scientifically accurate, in order to protect and advance their health,” Tolman said.

The bill passed on a party-line vote. It next heads to the House floor.

If it becomes law, the bill will add another section of “informed consent” material that doctors are forced by the state to distribute to patients seeking abortions regardless of whether doctors believe it is accurate. The state recently enacted legislation that forces doctors to distribute a list of facilities where women can obtain ultrasounds, though the list is entirely unvetted by the Department of Health and Welfare, and any person or group can be added to that list by filling out a short online form.

Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.