The makers of mifepristone insist the drug is safe. But in 2009, a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology showed a chemical abortion has four times more adverse effects than a surgical abortion.
In 2011, the FDA reported at least 339 women had suffered blood loss requiring transfusions. At least 250 suffered infections. Fourteen women who took the drug later died.
Often, the longest-lasting damage isn’t physical.
In 2013, Leslie Wolbert testified in an affidavit to the Supreme Court about her experience using abortion pills in 2006. She said she suffered “the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
After vomiting and severe bleeding, Wolbert took a shower and saw a large blood clot clogging the drain. She flushed the tissue down the toilet and realized, “I was flushing what was left of the life of the child that was growing inside of me.”
She called her emotional pain “almost unbearable” and said, “This was all done in my own home, in the family bathroom, the family shower, the place where I had to live after this experience.”
Wolbert said she found forgiveness from Christ but talks about her experience because “I hate that they say it’s safe or simple. I hate that they don’t tell you what you really experience and the extreme loss and heartache you will feel.”
EVEN AS AT LEAST 15 states have passed 20-week abortion bans—and a GOP Congress considers a similar federal measure—the abortion battle is shifting to the earliest stages of pregnancy. The swelling numbers of chemical abortions—and the FDA’s experiment with mailing the poison pills—reveals a shrewd push toward making painful and traumatic abortions more secretive and detached from a doctor—and more difficult for pro-life forces to stop.
Are they ready? How do pregnancy resource centers reach women pursuing increasingly secretive abortions, especially when they are up against the billion-dollar budget Planned Parenthood enjoys each year?
One of the front lines may be online—in the first moments a woman searches for information. The pro-life marketing research firm Heroic Media works to point women to the websites of about 50 local pregnancy care centers that hear from a high percentage of abortion-minded women.
Brett Attebery, the company’s vice president of marketing, says in the last year searches for abortion pills have surged: up 50 percent in New Orleans and 36 percent in Philadelphia. A 2015 study by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute showed 46 percent of the women surveyed said they were aware of a pregnancy resource center in their area. Sixty-two percent said they were aware of a Planned Parenthood facility nearby. (Ninety-three percent of women had heard of the abortion giant.)
Heroic Media buys Google ads to try to steer women searching for abortion pills to pro-life care centers in their area. Care Net—a nationwide network of pregnancy care centers—also uses Google keyword ads to direct women to its pregnancy decision hotline.
Cindy Hopkins of Care Net says many women asking about abortion pills often misunderstand how the drugs work: Some women think they take a pill and the baby dissolves. Cindi Boston of Heartbeat International—another network of care centers—says women calling the group’s Option Line ask similar questions.
So far, it doesn’t appear pro-life groups have narrowed their focus to specific campaigns aimed at abortion pill prevention. Attebery of Heroic Media says his group’s strategy is the same as intervening before a surgical abortion: Women seeking abortion pills are abortion-minded, and the goal is to connect them with a local pregnancy care center.
Astrid Bennett Gutierrez of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services says her care center has seen an increase of women seeking abortion pills in the low-income, predominantly Hispanic community she serves. The center’s staff members explain the process—and offer alternatives to abortion—but it’s an uphill battle: There are nine abortion centers nearby.
Since a baby’s heartbeat is usually visible by 6 weeks in the womb, ultrasounds are helpful even at early stages. But women may seek chemical abortions as early as 3 weeks, when the ultrasound images may be harder to discern.
In the FDA’s recent mail-order experiment, women obtained ultrasounds (and blood tests), but a webcam abortionist then mailed the abortion pills to the woman’s home. That meant a woman could visit physicians or medical technicians who offer ultrasounds but don’t stock abortion pills.
It also raised a chilling question: In the future, could a woman use a pro-life, pregnancy care center’s free ultrasound services to later obtain abortion pills via mail? It’s unclear if the process could evolve to include that option, but it’s a disturbing possibility worth following.
REBEKAH BUELL SAYS she was deeply disturbed before she reached the parking lot after taking the mifepristone pill at the Planned Parenthood near Sacramento in 2013. She panicked: “What have I done? What is the pill doing to my baby right now?”
Earlier, when she planned her abortion, she knew about the five Planned Parenthood centers within a 20-minute drive of her house. Three pro-life, pregnancy care centers were within a similar distance. Buell hadn’t heard of any of them.
By the time Buell swallowed mifepristone at the Planned Parenthood office, her baby was approaching 9 weeks in the womb. According to the website BabyCenter, a 9-week-old, unborn baby’s heart has finished dividing into four chambers, and the valves start to form—so do tiny teeth. The baby’s eyes are fully formed, and he has tiny earlobes. His basic physiology is in place, though he is still very tiny: “Your baby is about the size of a grape.”
Buell couldn’t bear the thought of her tiny baby dying in her womb because of a pill she had just swallowed. In the parking lot of the Planned Parenthood center she prayed, “If there’s a way out, please help me.”
Then she started googling. She learned that it may be possible to reverse a chemical abortion after a woman takes the mifepristone pill—and she found a hotline for abortion reversal.
A nurse from the Culture of Life Family Services answered. She explained the process that pro-life doctor George Delgado helped pioneer: Since mifepristone blocks a woman’s progesterone hormones to kill her unborn baby, giving the mother progesterone treatments may counteract the abortion—if given soon after the mifepristone pill. (Doctors have prescribed progesterone to women for infertility for years.)
It’s still early in development, but Delgado says 225 women who changed their minds after ingesting the first abortion pill have delivered their babies after taking the abortion reversal treatment. Another 157 are pregnant. Abortion reversal doesn’t work for everyone: Delgado says he’s seen about a 50 percent success rate, though he says the rate goes up to 65 to 75 percent with the dosage protocols he’s identified as most effective.
Buell was willing to try it. She drove a couple of hours away to the nearest physician offering the treatment. An ultrasound showed Buell’s baby was still alive, and the physician administered progesterone injections. He sent her home with a prescription to continue the injections for a few weeks.
On Oct. 20, 2013, Buell went into labor. She delivered a healthy newborn son. In the hospital, Buell thanked God for her child, and she chose a name for the baby boy whom others had encouraged her to forget. She calls him Zechariah—a name that means “God remembered.”