Fighting Misinformation

Abortion Reversal Pills Are Not Supported By Science

Politicians have pushed legislation that requires physicians to claim medication abortion can be “reversed” with doses of progesterone. This is not true.

A doctor prepping for an ultrasound with a pregnant patient. Misinformation about abortion have been...
Philippe Roy/Image Source/Getty Images

Since the 2016 elections (and throughout the pandemic) more Americans have become savvy about getting their news from social media. Still, people and groups with an agenda are still finding ways to spread dangerous misinformation in a convincing manner that can even have the most media-literate of Americans second-guessing. In the wake of the removal of Roe v. Wade, conservative politicians have been quickly pushing harmful anti-abortion legislation, sometimes attempting to codify misinformation, namely the notion that a medication abortion can be reversed with a big dose of progesterone, or abortion reversal pills.

The myth of the efficacy of this treatment has pushed by anti-abortion groups for some time, but as states continue to strip away reproductive rights, the misinformation has found new life. POLITICO analyzed social media engagement for abortion-reversal content — such as liking, reposting, or commenting — and found that engagement skyrocketed from 20 interactions on June 23 to 3,500 interactions on June 24 — the day SCOTUS removed Roe v. Wade.

An abortion reversal pill, or progesterone a person can take in pill-form should they have regrets about starting a medication abortion, is an unproven treatment. Advocates of this so-called abortion reversal pill often cite a study from 2012 that involved six pregnant women who took a dose of progesterone after taking mifepristone, the first of two pills necessary for a medication abortion. Four continued their pregnancies. The American Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also notes that the study was not supervised by an institutional review board or an ethical review committee, and a subsequent 2020 study was ended prematurely due to safety concerns for the study participants.

Still, a quick google of “abortion reversal pill” takes searchers to official, trustworthy-looking sites of websites that end in a .org that promise a way to reverse a medication abortion for people who have only taken the first pill. However, a scroll to the bottom of the page often leads to a fine print saying that reversal is not guaranteed. Many of these sites also claim that people wanting to reverse a medical abortion can do so by taking a pill, even though the few problematic studies that exist administered an injection of progesterone.

Since the FDA and CDC have not officially weighed in on the safety or efficacy of progesterone as a means of reversing a medical abortion, social media sites are having a difficult time flagging this content as a form of misinformation. Of course, this isn’t the only misinformation about abortions that has spread since the SCOTUS decision. Some abortion advocates have posted potentially poisonous at-home herbal treatments to naturally induce abortion. Anti-abortion groups have falsely claimed that the FDA-approved medical abortion treatment causes cancer and infertility.

According to the group Advancing New Standard in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a collaborative research group at University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, legislators in at least 20 states have introduced bills that require doctors to include a talk about this abortion reversal procedure, which, again, is not backed by science, since 2015. So-called abortion reversal bills are law in six states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah. Given the whole climate of abortion in the U.S., it is likely others will follow suit.

This is what makes voting in local level politics critical for anyone fighting for reproductive justice. See where abortion is on your state ballot for the 2022 general elections and vote accordingly.