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Anti-abortion doctors work with controversial US activists to promote unproven 'reversals'

Reporter was offered drug over phone by Irish GP


US Vice President Mike Pence (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Irish doctors are working with a US anti-abortion group linked to the Trump White House to promote an unproven "abortion reversal" treatment.

The HSE has warned that "abortion reversal" does not exist, and is not a reliable medical practice.

But Dr Fiona O'Hanlon, a GP based in Cavan who is a member of Doctors for Life and has campaigned against abortion law reform, offered to prescribe progesterone to a journalist posing as a woman who was seeking to undo a medical termination.

Doctors for Life has been working with Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion group based in Ohio, to promote "abortion reversal".

Heartbeat International has boasted about having "friends in Washington" and has been praised by Mike Pence, Donald Trump's vice-president.

The organisation is connected with a worldwide network of rogue crisis pregnancy agencies which pose as objective sources of information.

Doctors for Life hosted a conference in Dublin in January promoting Heartbeat International and its "abortion reversal" claims. A website run by Heartbeat International now offers to refer women to a doctor in Ireland who will offer the procedure .

A journalist posed as a woman enquiring about "abortion reversal" to contact Doctors for Life. Dr O'Hanlon, who campaigned to keep the Eighth Amendment and works in a practice in Cootehill, responded and said she would be "happy" to prescribe a drug over the phone. She included her Medical Council registration number.

"Basically it is possible to reverse effects of the first pill using progesterone - it's a similar mechanism that we are used to using for a threatened miscarriage so if you have changed your mind it is worth a try," Dr O'Hanlon said in the email. She also referred the woman to the website run by Heartbeat International.

In Ireland, a termination under 12 weeks' gestation can be done by taking two drugs. The first is misoprostol and the second is mifepristone.

Anti-abortion activists claim that taking progesterone after the first pill can reverse a termination. But there is no medical evidence to support this claim.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said "there is no such thing as 'abortion reversal'".

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"Failure to continue, having taken the first medication, may result in miscarriage and a healthy outcome cannot be guaranteed. It is not a reliable medical practice," the spokeswoman added.

Asked to comment, Dr O'Hanlon said: "I'm not sure I have much to add to the first email I replied to in the context of, as I believed, a patient seeking assistance."

She referred the Irish Independent to a 2018 study which suggested progesterone could be used to treat a threatened miscarriage. More recent research has contradicted this study, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said using progestins for threatened miscarriages is "controversial, and conclusive evidence supporting their use is lacking".

In the US, a number of states have a legal requirement for doctors to tell women about "abortion reversal". Last year, researchers at University of California Davis sought to prove if progesterone did or did not work.

Dr Mitchell Creinin, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at UC Davis, told the Irish Independent that the study had to be abandoned amid safety concerns.

A number of women who had taken mifepristone but not followed it with misoprostol were admitted to hospital after they started to bleed.

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