Arizona Law Now Forces Doctors to Say Abortion Can Be Reversed

The provision not only puts women at risk but may run afoul of the First Amendment.



Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into a law Monday a mandate that physicians give untested and possibly dangerous medical advice to pregnant women. Under the new law, doctors must tell women who take abortion drug mifepristone that the process can be "reversed" if they act quickly enough.

Drug-based abortion is a two-step process, with women taking mifepristone first and, three days later, following up with a second pill (misoprostol). The controversial "reversal" contention is based on work from one anti-abortion physician-activist, George Delgado, who says he's been able to reverse mifepristone's effects with high doses of the hormone progesterone. No clinical trials evaluating this process exist. The only case studies of the process come from Delgado, who says four of the six women he's tried it on wound up carrying their pregnancies to term—a rate similar to that for women who take mifepristone but skip the second abortion pill (no progesterone needed). 

"This is a great day for women in Arizona who are considering getting an abortion to get all the facts they need," Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, told Reuters. But doctors and medical groups say otherwise: that abortion "reversal" with progesterone isn't just scientifically suspect but could be dangerous for women—the hormone can come with mild to severe side effects—and open doctors up to legal liability. 

"There is no science to support this," Arizona-based gynecologist Ilana Addis told The Atlantic. "The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] does not support advising women on treatments that are not evidence-based. These women would be unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs."

This isn't the first time Arizona lawmakers have put "pro-life" politics over what's best for women safety. A 2014 Arizona law that would have required doctors to administer abortion drugs based on outdated (and more risky) protocol; it was eventually blocked by the state Supreme Court.

In addition to putting women's health at risk, the provision would seem to run afoul of the First Amendment by compelling doctors to make statements that run counter to both their beliefs and prevailing medical evidence. Last December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit struck down a North Carolina law requiring physicians to narrate an ultrasound to women seeking abortions, ruling that the requirement violated the First Amendment.