The truth about abortion pill reversal treatment

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It is a serious thing for a doctor to deliberately provide misleading evidence to a government agency, or to a patient, or even to the general public. But this is exactly what Dr Jonathan Lord, Medical Director of MSI Reproductive Choices, stands accused of.

Deliberately providing misleading information

In a letter signed by six doctors, submitted to the General Medical Council (GMC) requesting a formal investigation, Dr Lord stands accused of "deliberately providing misleading and incorrect information to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to influence a decision in favour of his political stance in relation to abortion pill reversal therapy using Progesterone."

Dr Lord is also accused of professional misconduct for "deliberately providing misleading information to a patient," as well as to the general public.

Dr Lord last year instigated a campaign against Dr Dermot Kearney for prescribing progesterone as treatment to help reverse the effects of the first abortion pill for women who immediately regretted it (known as Abortion Pill Reversal, or APR). Dr Dermot was last year fully vindicated by the GMC which stated that this treatment is safe and may be beneficial. In spite of this ruling, Dr Lord has continued to campaign against the treatment.

NICE recently published guidelines for the use of progesterone to manage threatened miscarriages. In a section explaining why the committee made the recommendations, it states:

"The committee confirmed that the recommendations for the use of progesterone are only for women with early pregnancy bleeding and a history of miscarriage. The recommendations are not applicable in other circumstances, such as after the use of mifepristone."

False submission to NICE

This decision followed a consultative process with submissions made by a number of UK abortion providers, including a submission from MSI made by Dr Lord. The MSI submission states:

"Prescribing progesterone in such circumstances would be at best ineffective and at worse actively harmful."

That statement is categorially false.

The best evidence is that prescribing progesterone after taking the first abortion pill significantly increases the chances of survival of the baby.

The GMC investigation concluded:

"The allegation that APR treatment is ineffective is not supported by available literature. In fact, available evidence suggests that there may be a treatment benefit."

It also concluded that abortion pill reversal treatment with progesterone is safe.

Dr Lord has continued to claim that the use of progesterone for abortion pill reversal may be dangerous.

The MSI submission to NICE also states:

"We have received calls to our post-operation support telephone line from women who have been prescribed progesterone under these circumstances and have had a poor experience."

However, no evidence of any such calls was provided. All the women we have been in contact with who have received such treatment have been very grateful for the help they received. Multiple women submitted witness statements to the GMC saying that they were well supported by Dr Kearney. No complaints were brought from any women to support the allegations against Dr Kearney. If Dr Lord had any evidence of complaints, then he would have brought this to the GMC. The failure to provide a single example of a woman who had complained about Dr Kearney is very telling and shows just how appreciative the women he has treated are. It also calls into question Dr Lord's claims to have received calls from women who had a bad experience following the treatment.

Harassment of a patient

In one case, a patient said that Dr Lord had made unsolicited phone calls trying to persuade her to make a false witness statement to the GMC while she was recovering from serious post-abortion complications. The patient concerned said she resorted to blocking his phone number, but that Dr Lord then followed up with an email on the same day claiming that other patients had raised concerns.

This patient describes how she had panicked after taking the first abortion pill and had phoned MSI to ask them about the use of progesterone for reversing the effects of the first abortion pill. She was told that it would not work and that she must take the second abortion pill. Sadly, this patient subsequently miscarried due to the effects of the abortion pills. She then suffered complications requiring her to go to A & E. She was very unhappy with the lack of care and support from MSI which took five days to return her call, and then offered an appointment in two weeks' time.

The patient concerned submitted a witness statement in which she described Dr Dermot as "Amazing." She said: "He was not judgmental, was very professional, and he was realistic about the success rate after prescribing me with progesterone from my local pharmacy... He did not push anything on me – he just cared. If it wasn't for him, I think I might even be dead by now."

Deliberately misleading the public

Dr Lord also stands accused of making misleading claims about the effectiveness of progesterone for abortion pill reversal treatment. He has been quoted in the press as saying that once the first abortion pill has been taken, "a pregnancy has an 82 per cent chance of continuing if the second pill is not taken."

However, this statistic is clearly false since it comes from a study of women where, unusually, the pregnancy had continued after taking one or both abortion pills. The subjects were only eligible to participate in the study if abortion had not already occurred. From the same study, using Dr Lord's logic, you would assume a 97% survival rate after taking both abortion pills! This is absurd. In fact, the opposite is the case. Survival rate after taking both pills ranges from 0.5% to 2.8%.The same issue of the journal carrying the study that Dr Lord references states that about 80% will abort after the first pill alone. This means that the correct survival rate after taking the first pill is around 20% - a long way from the 82% Dr Lord claims!

Dr Lord is accused of deliberately misrepresenting the survival rate after taking the first abortion pill so as to make it seem as if it is better not to treat the women with progesterone to reverse the effects of the pill. The progesterone abortion pill reversal therapy has a live birth rate of 50-55% which is a significant improvement over the 20% survival rate if no reversal treatment is taken. However, Dr Lord's false statistic makes it appear as if the progesterone treatment actually reduces the survival rate.

The authors of the letter accuse Dr Lord of "deliberately attempting to mislead the public and medical regulators about the true efficacy of progesterone in this context." If he is not deliberately misleading then "he has a very poor understanding of how to interpret scientific and medical data." They conclude, "In either case, he should not be allowed to continue making such misleading statements as an authoritative spokesperson."

Women deserve better

The evidence that Dr Lord has been deliberately misleading government agencies, and the public is compelling. As a result of his statements, many women falsely believe that progesterone treatment for abortion pill reversal is unsafe and potentially harmful. The GMC should initiate a formal investigation into Dr Lord for professional misconduct. It is one thing to be pro-abortion, it is quite another thing to mislead women about medical treatment that could save their babies' lives when they change their minds. Women deserve better than this.

NICE should change its guidelines and recommend the use of progesterone treatment for abortion pill reversal. It is clearly safe and effective. It is high time that women who regret taking the first abortion pill are routinely offered this choice which has a good chance of saving the life of the baby. MSI and all abortion providers should be required to inform women of the possibility of abortion pill reversal should they have a change of mind.

Andrea Williams is chief executive of Christian Concern.

Editor's Note: 

MSI Reproductive Choices has responded to the claims against Dr Lord in a statement: 

"We are unaware of any complaint to the GMC.

"There's no evidence whatsoever that so-called abortion reversal works. We would never oppose any treatment which is effective. We passionately believe in practising evidence-based medicine and not offering untested treatments which could have significant side-effects, and which are against national guidelines."

"The overwhelming majority of people who opt for a medical abortion are very sure about their decision, and research confirms that very few regret their choices. In the rare event that someone does change their mind having taken abortion medication, it's vital that they are fully supported by a non-judgemental team who can provide impartial information and independent counselling about all the options."