SALT LAKE CITY — Two lawmakers who made Utah the first state in the U.S. to require women seeking abortions to undergo anesthesia after 20 weeks of gestation are tackling abortion again.
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, are drafting a bill that would require doctors to tell women that they may be able to reverse drug-induced abortions.
Opponents of abortion say the measure would ensure that women have all the information available before making the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
But most doctors say the science behind abortion pill reversal is unproven and incomplete.
If the bill passes, Utah would once again be an early adopter. Only Arizona, Arkansas and South Dakota have passed some form of the law, but Arizona legislators repealed the law after Planned Parenthood took the issue to court.
The language of the measure has not yet been drafted, but Stratton called the issue “fairly straightforward.”
"If you're pro-choice, I would say that it helps you be educated in making the choice," Stratton said. "If you're pro-life, it gives an opportunity to look at the options if a decision is made to reverse course."
The proposal is supported by Pro-Life Utah, which pushed for the fetal anesthesia bill last year. The organization’s president, Mary Taylor, said she has lived with a lifetime of regret as a result of her abortion 35 years ago.
"I understand how that feels, to think that you have made the biggest mistake of your lifetime," Taylor said. "And part of the problem for me, with that decision, was the information I had when I made the choice.
"You just can't make a real true choice if you don't have all the facts in front of you," she added.
The scientific evidence backing abortion pill reversal is thin.
There are two steps to a drug-induced abortion. The first is to take mifepristone, a drug that blocks a hormone called progesterone and causes the lining of the uterus to break down.
The second step is a drug called misoprostol that helps the cervix open up and the uterus contract, mimicking a miscarriage.
By flooding the body with injections of progesterone before the second pill is ingested, the theory goes, doctors can protect the fetus.
The science behind abortion pill reversal is based largely on the work of California-based physician Dr. George Delgado. Delgado published an article in 2012 about six women who received progesterone in varying amounts after taking the first drug but before taking the second.
Of the seven, four had healthy babies, he said.
But a systematic review of abortion reversal treatments last year concluded that Delgado’s study was of poor quality due to its lack of controls and lack of oversight by an ethics review board.
"That is not how science works," said Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN and reproductive rights activist. “That’s not how you should practice medicine.”
While progesterone is relatively benign and has been proven safe for other uses, such as preventing miscarriages, it has not been studied for its effect on drug-induced abortions, Torres said.
If doctors know a drug is safe for headaches and want to test it for acid reflux, she pointed out, they have to amass significant evidence until they can make it part of standard practice.
“They need to be able to answer the questions of: ‘What are the risks of stopping a medical abortion? What are the risks to the baby? What are the risks to the mom?" Torres said.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support medical abortion reversal. During discussion about the Arizona law, the organization noted that Delgado’s study failed to prove that progesterone works any better than simply not taking the second pill.
Delgado disputes the organization’s data. He said he has since documented the births of 220 babies after treating women with progesterone and another 100 women who are currently pregnant.
He said he is in the midst of analyzing the data and submitting it for review.
"I do believe it's viable because we've had over 300 successes," Delgado said. "They are fully confident that it works and it's safe. So I do feel that (women) have the right to know."
Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Utah, opposes the proposed measure and said legislators are playing at being doctor.
"We need a vigorous discussion with people who have the appropriate letters after their name — who have done rigorous study to earn those letters after their name — as our trusted health care providers," she said.
On that, Galloway and Stratton agree.
Stratton said he plans to speak with the medical community about the bill while he drafts it. The 2017 Legislative session begins in January.
"We're not doctors," he said. "We're trying to formulate good policy."