Indiana panel advances bill on disputed abortion 'reversal'

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 19:40:24-05

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- An Indiana House panel clashed Wednesday over the science behind a disputed method to purportedly stop drug-induced abortions, then narrowly approved a requirement for women to receive information about it before undergoing the procedure.

The author of the bill, Republican Rep. Ron Bacon, contends informing women about the method could give them a chance to change their minds and save the baby. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, however, has stated the so-called abortion reversal procedure is not scientifically proven to work and opponents argue the method hasn't been sufficiently vetted.

"We can't say it's going to work, we can't prove that," Bacon said. "She'll at least get that opportunity. It's a chance."

An Arizona law that required doctors to inform women of the potential ability of qualified medical professionals to "reverse a medication abortion" was challenged in court and later repealed by the Legislature. At least two states have passed similar laws.

Indiana's measure would require the State Health Department to create a form directing pregnant women toward more information on the potential to stop their drug-induced abortion midway through the procedure.

Advocates of the approach, particularly the Abortion Pill Reversal group, say they've seen success "reversing" the procedure when doctors administer progesterone after a woman has taken the first of two medications needed to complete the drug-induced abortion. They cite a 2012 case report in which four of six women successfully carried their pregnancies to term after this procedure and say an upcoming report will describe 300 successful cases.

ACOG has stated that claims about "abortion reversals" aren't supported by scientific evidence and that available research seems to indicate when a woman takes the first pill and then changes her mind, doing nothing is just as effective as intervening with the hormone progesterone.

Opponents who flag the method's vetting say it would be irresponsible to share the information with women without further evidence. A scientific trial would require a larger sample size, a comparator such as a placebo, additional oversight and the ability to be reproduced, doctors who testified at a hearing last week said.

"The entire bill is built on a premise that is not grounded in clinical science," said Patti Stauffer, the vice-president of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. "It does nothing to promote women's health and it does not move us forward proactively on tackling the issue of unintended pregnancies."

An amendment from Democratic Rep. Terri Austin approved by the panel adds a disclaimer to the information provided to women that "no scientifically validated medical study confirms that an abortion may be reversed after taking abortion-inducing drugs." It also directs them to ACOG for further information.

The additional information gives women a "full menu of choices" to enable an informed decision, Austin said, adding the Legislature should not advance medical practices or theories.

"It's not our role to codify it as a legislator and put this in statute and say to women, 'We're going to give you this advocacy group or theory's information, but we're not going to balance it out and make sure that you understand,'" Austin said. "All the time we tell people to get a second opinion - get a second opinion, that's what I'm trying to make sure of."

Bacon's proposal advanced out of the panel on a 7-6 vote and now awaits a House floor vote.

Austin ultimately voted against the measure, citing concerns over a provision requiring an ultrasound to ascertain the post-fertilization age of the fetus. She was joined by the Democrats on the panel, as well as Republican Reps. Edward Clere and Sean Eberhart.

Other approved amendments on the bill codify information abortion providers must send to the state health department, require clinics to receive sex trafficking training and develop a reporting procedure to track patients who suffer complications from abortion procedures.

Bacon's measure is among the only proposed abortion measures to be considered by a panel so far this session. Anti-abortion activists have been pressuring lawmakers to consider the issue through visits to the Statehouse and social media campaigns.