Help wanted but not allowed
Two U.K. doctors face penalties for helping women save their babies from chemical abortions
Women in the United Kingdom who regret taking the first drug in an abortion pill cocktail can no longer access reversal treatment. Two U.K. doctors began prescribing progesterone dosages to frantic women who contacted pro-life groups for help last year, around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s Pills by Post telemedical abortion program. Pills by Post allows women to receive abortive drugs by mail without ever seeing a medical professional in person. Now, the doctors must stop prescribing abortion pill reversal (APR) treatments while the General Medical Council investigates them based on allegations of endangering women.
The prominent abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices brought charges against Dr. Dermot Kearney and Dr. Eileen Reilly in January. At the end of April, both doctors received word that they were under investigation and must attend a May 12 hearing. At the hearing, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service allowed them to continue normal practice under certain restrictions during an 18-month investigation. As a gynecologist, Reilly can still prescribe progesterone, but not outside of her practice. Kearney, a cardiologist and emergency room physician, is barred from administering it at all. Both could lose their medical licenses.
In the months between the initial complaint and the hearing, an undercover reporter with the U.K.-based political website Open Democracy posed as a woman who had taken the first abortion drugs and came in contact with Reilly through the Heartbeat International APR network. The article claimed APR put women in danger of serious bleeding—a side effect of the abortive drugs.
Although unborn babies may survive after the mother takes mifepristone, the first drug in the abortion pill cocktail, even if she does not follow it with misoprostol, Kearney said the chances of survival only increase if a woman adds progesterone. He said he tells his patients about possible side effects, including nausea and headaches.
Kearney said in the more than 90 calls he responded to between May 2020 and April 2021, more than 30 women chose not to take the abortifacients or stopped the regimen early. Of those who went on to take progesterone, about half successfully kept their pregnancies, he said. In some studies, success rates for APR have been as high as 68 percent. The sooner a woman takes progesterone, the more likely the child will survive. But only a small number of providers offer the treatment, among other limited resources.
The MSI complaint cites women who claim they felt Kearney and Reilly imposed their pro-life beliefs on them. But women have also come forward with stories of how the APR treatment helped them when they started to regret their decision to abort.
One woman, under the pseudonym “Laura,” took the first abortion pill and experienced instant regret. She tried to make herself vomit it back up but did not succeed. After finding out about APR through an online search, Laura contacted Kearney. “I was aware that it might not work,” Laura said, “but I felt I had to do everything I could because I could not have lived with the guilt of taking the tablet and continuing the abortion.”
Laura now has a healthy baby boy and says she has Kearney to thank for his “life-saving service.” Her son is one of seven babies already born to mothers Kearney helped.
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