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Abortion Reversal Laws In Idaho, Utah Could Endanger Women, Study Finds

Stock image of pills, not a picture of abortion medication.
James Abbott-Donnelly
Flickr Creative Commons
Stock image of pills, not a picture of abortion medication.

A new study casts doubt on the safety of state abortion laws in the Mountain West.

Laws in Idaho and Utah require physicians to tell women seeking an abortion that they could “reverse” the abortion if it’s medication-induced. Women rarely choose to back out of the process once it’s started, but a new study suggests it could be dangerous if they do.

State legislators behind the laws contended that a reversal is possible if women take only the first of two abortion-inducing pills and see a doctor for treatment.

Noting a lack of research around the treatment and drugs in question, Mitchell Creinen, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis, conducted a randomized controlled trial. Some of the women in the study started hemorrhaging dangerously and went to the hospital after taking only the first pill.

“So this happened in three people out of twelve we treated,” Creinen said. “There was something not right there and that’s why we needed to stop the study, because it wasn’t safe.”

Creinin said lawmakers may be under-informed about what these laws mean and what risks are involved. He says they’re making women participate in an unmonitored experiment that even he doesn’t know the outcome of because there were too few data points. All he does know is that what happened with these women was not a normal abortion outcome.

“These three women experienced bleeding that was very different,” Creinen said. “That was sudden, brisk, extremely heavy to the point where even one of them called 911 for an ambulance and then sat in her bathtub, filling her bathtub with blood. That’s not what happens with a medical abortion.”

Utah lawmaker Keven Stratton sponsored his state’s law. He said he’s seen Creinin’s study, but says the law should stand because doctors can still inform women about the possible side effects.

“What we’re doing here with the language of this statute is encouraging ongoing communication throughout the process,” Stratton said. “I think that if their medical provider is feeling that the California study is valid and applicable to the patient, certainly, they’d initially want to explain, ‘This is a very serious decision you’re making. Be very cautious.’”

Utah’s law requires doctors to give information to patients about where they can go to learn more about a “chemical abortion, including the interventions, if any, that may affect the effectiveness or reversal of a "chemical abortion.”

Six other states have laws similar to Idaho’s and Utah’s. In September, a federal judge in North Dakota blocked that state’s version of the law, writing that it forces physicians to convey “a state-mandated message that is devoid of credible scientific evidence; misinforms and misleads the patient; undermines informed consent and the standard of care; and is arguably unethical.”

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter  @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit .

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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