“I was pregnant but I didn't tell the father at the time and I decided to let him know when we were having a lot of fights and discussions,” 19-year-old Karen Raya told NBC 7 Investigates, “It wasn't going to be the happily ever after that I intended it to be.”
Raya said feelings of fear and loneliness began driving her decisions six months ago when she found out she was pregnant for the second time.
“It was really hard for me to think of completing this pregnancy and being a single mom of two,” she said, “I already have to work, I have to pay all of these bills, I'm going to school and it wasn't the ideal thing for me to do and I felt so alone.”
Fearing judgment from her family, Raya said she kept the news of her second pregnancy and her next decision, to proceed with a medical abortion, to herself. Immediately after taking the first abortion pill, Raya said she was flooded with regret and searched ways to reverse the effects of the medication online.
It was then Raya said she first learned about the abortion pill reversal program.
“We are getting nowadays about 100 to 150 calls per month,” Dr. George Delgado, one of the founders of the abortion pill reversal program at the Culture of Life Family Services center in San Diego, told NBC 7 Investigates. He claims his therapy reverses medical abortions.
According to Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, over 7,000 women sought medical abortion procedures in Southern California last year.
A medical abortion is when a patient takes two drugs: mifepristone, followed by misoprostol. According to doctors, mifepristone blocks the effect of progesterone production and causes the uterine lining to break down. Misoprostol forces the pregnancy out of the body.
“I knew how mifepristone had worked because I had studied it and knew it blocked progesterone receptors,” Delgado said. “Progesterone is an essential hormone for pregnancy, the name implies that: pro-gestation.”
Delgado said he started developing the therapy to reverse the effects of the abortion pill in 2009 and theorized if a patient didn’t take the second medication and instead took doses of progesterone, the effects of the mifepristone dose could be reversed.
“We are very close to having our 300th birth of successful reversal,” Delgado said.
In 2012, Delgado and other doctors published a study of six women who underwent the reversal therapy treatment. According to the study, four of the six women who had originally taken mifepristone were able to carry pregnancies to term after doctors administered doses of progesterone.
To see the study, click here.
Eight years later, Delgado and physicians from across the country have formed a network of doctors who administer the therapy.
“We don’t know much about this treatment, we don’t know if it’s effective and we don't know if there may be potential risks,” Dr. Daniel Grossman, a Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Francisco, told NBC 7 Investigates.
Grossman has been an outspoken critic of Delgado’s program. Working with other doctors, he published a 2015 medical review analyzing the effectiveness of medical abortion “reversal” treatments. The review concluded Delgado’s 2012 study “was of poor quality with few details.”
According to their review, women who take the first of the two pills prescribed for a medical abortion, a 200mg dose of mifepristone, had a 23% chance of carrying out their pregnancy without participating in reversal treatment.
“In the very rare case that a woman decides to continue the pregnancy after taking mifepristone, there’s a good chance the pregnancy will continue anyway if she doesn’t take the second medication,” Grossman said. “We have no evidence that this treatment is better than doing nothing.”
To see Grossman’s review, click here.
Abortion pill reversal therapy has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to an agency spokesperson.
NBC 7 Investigates asked Delgado for the number of women his center has treated, including how many experienced successful reversals, but Delgado declined to provide the information.
“I can’t quote my data because I’m going to submit this for publication but I can give you a rough estimate and with our best protocols, the embryo survival and birth rate is 60-70%,” he said. “That’s far better than a 25% survival rate.”
Delgado said his program is privately funded and most insurance providers cover the therapy. If a client has to pay out of pocket, Delgado said donations to the center are used to cover the costs.
NBC 7 Investigates has learned three states, Arkansas, South Dakota and Utah, have passed laws requiring physicians who provide abortion services to inform patients about the reversal program. In 2016, a similar bill was proposed in California but it did not pass.
Groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Planned Parenthood oppose such requirements. They said it’s unethical to inform a patient about a medical procedure that has little scientific or medical evidence behind it.
Delgado told NBC 7 Investigates his study, set to be published later this year, will provide undeniable evidence of the program’s success.
Raya is now entering her second trimester, after taking the first abortion pill and then seeking Delgado’s therapy in March. She said doctors have told her the baby girl looks healthy.
“Hearing the first heartbeat gave me a sense of hope, that this program will help and I will become the statistic that helps it grow,” Raya said.