Woman who sought abortion reversal treatment defends doctor under investigation

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A woman who sought help to reverse her abortion has defended the doctor who came to her aid.

The woman, named only as Kate, was prescribed progesterone by Dr Dermot Kearney after she used the pills-by-post service to have an abortion at home.

The pills-by-post service allows women to receive both abortion pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, in the post up to the 10th week of their pregnancy following an e-consultation with a doctor.

Progesterone can be used to inhibit the effects of mifepristone, thereby 'reversing' the abortion.

But Dr Kearney is now being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC), and is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which is also assisting Kate.

Kate says she received the abortion pills from MSI Reproductive Choices - formerly Marie Stopes International - but "instantly" felt regret after taking the first pill and sought out help to reverse the effects from Dr Kearney.

He prescribed her with progesterone but before taking it, she panicked and called MSI to ask them if they believed the abortion could be reversed. She says she was told it would not work and that she must take the second abortion pill.

She then miscarried and became unwell, having to call for an ambulance twice and undergo an emergency operation to remove remnants of the pregnancy.

Kate says that it was as she was recovering that MSI's medical director Jonathan Lord called her to ask about how she acquired the progesterone.

"He tried to manipulate me to say I had concerns about Dr Kearney's intervention," she said.

"He suggested that he could fast-track me through the system to get counselling if I gave him what he wanted. It felt like a passive aggressive bribe and that I wasn't a human being, I was just another number."

At an interim hearing at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in May, Dr Kearney was banned for 18 months from providing progesterone, pending an investigation by the GMC.

Kate claims that her case was used by Lord without her consent to form the basis of MSI's complaint to the GMC regarding Dr Kearney's intervention.

"[Lord] was insistent that I gave him the information he wanted even though I told him I was unwell," she said.

"He then followed up with an email and told me the GMC would be in touch about the progesterone. I felt scared and pressurised by him at a time when I was vulnerable.

"Marie Stopes are to blame for what happened to me, not Dr Kearney. I have been used by them for this complaint and in so doing they have breached my confidentiality.

"I am still in touch with Dr Kearney. 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."

Andrea Williams, CLC chief executive, said abortion reversal treatment should be expanded, not banned, and that Dr Kearney should be exonerated.

"Women should be properly informed, as a matter of course, that the baby's death is not inevitable after the first pill is taken," she said.

"We have seen many women immediately regret taking the first abortion pill. Dr Kearney offers hope and the possibility of saving the pregnancy when this happens. He should have the freedom to do it."

In response to the claims, Lord said in a statement, "We can confirm we have been approached by the General Medical Council about an investigation they are conducting into concerns arising from 'abortion reversal' treatments. Given that this is an active investigation it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this, however, we would like to make it clear that there is no evidence that supports the concept of abortion reversal treatment.

"Where no 'reversal' treatment is given, published research found that pregnancy continues in up to 82%. In the extremely rare event that someone does change their mind or would like additional time to consider their options having taken abortion medication, we would always offer support and independent counselling, and if they wanted to continue the pregnancy would liaise with NHS colleagues to ensure they had a safe handover for ongoing antenatal care.

"If we find out a client has concerns about their treatment we will always try to contact them so we can investigate and learn from any concerns. We are committed to the right to choose, whether that is having an abortion or continuing with a pregnancy.

"However, the use of untested medication, in the case of 'abortion reversal', which had to be stopped in a clinical trial owing to safety concerns, is unlikely to be in the patient's interests, especially if the medication is obtained through private services who are not prepared to discuss the full range of treatment options."

Kevin Duffy, an independent public health consultant and a former Marie Stopes director, disagreed with Lord's take on the use of progesterone.

"Studies, such as the Creinin study, have proved progesterone treatment is safer for women, who regret taking the first pill, than the current advice given to women by abortion providers," he said.

"Supporters of abortion reversal treatment are crucially pointing out that it is abortion pills that can cause haemorrhage, but progesterone does not. The 'progesterone is dangerous' argument leaves the profession, and professionals like Dr Kearney, in an impossible position.

"Are doctors really supposed to argue that progesterone is completely safe when used to treat miscarriage, for example, but when it is used to stop an abortion, the use of progesterone by doctors immediately becomes dangerous and irresponsible?"

He added, "If abortion providers insist that women should take the second pill, misoprostol, to complete the abortion, against their wishes, they are denying women the right to withdraw consent and are enforcing a criminal act by forcing abortion against their will."