On a spring afternoon in 2013, Rebekah Buell swallowed the first of two doses of her medical abortion treatment at a Planned Parenthood center in North Highlands. The then-19-year-old Roseville woman said she returned to her car with the second dose in hand. The four white pills in a bag taunted her from the passenger seat.
“As soon as I got to my car I knew it wasn’t the right decision,” Buell said. “Everything just hit me. … I just felt like, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’ ”
Since that day, Buell has become a champion of what’s known as “abortion reversal therapy,” an increasingly popular procedure promoted by anti-abortion advocates despite the warnings of many physicians about its effectiveness. The therapy purports to undo the effects of non-surgical abortions, also called medical abortions, in the crucial window after women take the first dose of the abortion regimen and before they swallow the second dose a few days later.
Several California clinics advertise the therapy, claiming to be able to undo the effects of the first dose containing mifepristone, which blocks progesterone production and causes the uterine lining to shed. The second set of pills contains misoprostol, which makes the uterus contract and initiates bleeding and cramping.
More than 350 providers nationwide perform abortion reversal therapy, according to proponents of the treatment. One Sacramento clinic, Alternatives Pregnancy Center, began offering the service free of charge this spring.
Family physician Dr. George Delgado, medical director of the Culture of Life Family Health Care clinic in San Diego, said he developed the therapy in 2009 to give women more choices.
Several states, including Arkansas and South Dakota, require physicians to tell abortion-seeking patients that reversal is an option. California Assembly member Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, proposed similar legislation in 2016, but it didn’t make it out of the Assembly Health Committee.
Amy Everitt, state director of advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice California, said the unproven procedure is just another anti-abortion play from crisis pregnancy centers, or faith-based organizations that provide pregnancy counseling, as well as ultrasounds, sexually transmitted disease counseling and other services.
“(Reversal therapy) is another vehicle for putting pressure and shame on women,” Everitt said. “What you’re saying is ‘You probably haven’t thought about this enough, so there’s an option halfway through to rethink.’ That disrespects women’s decision-making processes.”
Delgado said he has treated roughly 250 women who were able to birth healthy babies after undergoing reversal therapy, plus another 100 who are currently pregnant and taking progesterone. He has not published research on those patients but estimates the success rate of the therapy is somewhere between 60 and 70 percent.
“I don’t know why there’s controversy and criticism,” he said. “It seems like a no-brainer. If these women change their minds, they should know that this exists.”
Buell, who underwent Delgado’s therapy and went on to deliver a healthy baby boy, said she’s grateful to have had a second chance to save her child. Her decision to abort, made in the aftermath of an abusive relationship, was driven purely by fear, she said.
“I’ve never felt more desperate and hurt than I did after taking that pill,” she said. “There was no other feeling, no worse of a situation I could have been in right then and there, thinking I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.”
She called the Abortion Pill Reversal hotline, established by Delgado and others in 2012, and got connected to Delgado’s brother Dr. Julian Delgado, a family practice physician in Colusa who has performed about 10 abortion reversals. His patients come from all over Northern California, he said.
Now 23, Buell splits her time between parenting Zechariah, 3, and his brother Eli, 5, and speaking publicly about abortion reversal at schools, churches and conventions.
“It’s so important for me to speak out,” she said. “For women to know they’re not alone, that they’re not crazy for making a decision of fear and then changing their mind.”
Full story at Sacramento Bee.