FALSE NEWS – To promote false, anti-abortion news or not? A dilemma 

by Marge Berer

The website of openDemocracy describe themselves as a UK-based political website, founded in 2001, who state that “through reporting and analysis of social and political issues, they seek to ‘challenge power and encourage democratic debate’ across the world”.

Over the last several months, though not for the first time, they have been publishing a storm of articles about the machinations of the currently highly well-funded, hyper-active, internationalised, anti-women, anti-human rights, anti-gender, anti-abortion movement. I’ve watched this with concern. I have never studied journalism but I believe those who have say that if you are not careful about how many and what kind of column inches you give to your enemy, you may end up supporting their cause. Or said differently, any publicity is good publicity, even if it is condemnatory. And yet here I am, publishing three out of five articles in this newsletter today about the anti-abortion movement.

The question of whether and how those of us in the abortion rights movement should confront what the current anti-abortion movement stand for – and whether, when and how we write about them – is something I think we would do well to debate together. The answer is far from obvious to me, because who they are has changed substantially in recent years. If we look at what is happening in the USA, Brazil, and Poland, the right-wing political connection is deadly serious. They may claim to want to save babies who they need not take responsibility for, but I doubt there is a group of people less interested in the lives and welfare of actual babies than those people.

So what’s the story. The undercover reporters from openDemocracy discovered the anti-abortion movement in Europe has begun to promote this so-called “abortion regret pill”, as it has been labelled in Europe, or “abortion reversal pill” as it was labelled in the USA several years ago. I have known about its trajectory in the USA since it first surfaced, promoted in a pseudo-journal article by a group of anti-abortion doctors pretending concern for women who were encouraged to take mifepristone by evil abortion doctors before they were sure they even wanted an abortion, and then learned it was too late to do anything to stop it. So having invented these women and attributing a problem to them, these doctors claimed they had found a miracle cure (without testing it) that would save women’s pregnancies. They came up with progesterone as an “antidote” to mifepristone and after a handful (literally) of women were reported to have tried it and did not lose their pregnancies, these guys claimed it worked and started peddling it.

Whether it was safe or not was apparently not considered. The whole thing sounded like a set-up. And of course they didn’t really want to know if it worked or not, what they wanted was to be the saviours of women’s pregnancies and stop them from having an abortion.

Some anti-abortion legislators in anti-abortion-controlled state legislatures passed bills that required doctors to offer progesterone to women seeking medical abortion pills “in case they changed their minds”. The US Food & Drug Administration did nothing to stop it (this was under Trump, remember).

No clinical trials were done to check if it worked, let alone whether it was safe until Mitch Creinen, a doctor based at the University of California at San Francisco, one of us, set up a proper randomised clinical trial. That trial was stopped early, after only 12 women had taken mifepristone followed by either a placebo or progesterone. It was stopped early because several of the women (both placebo and progesterone users) experienced heavy bleeding. Conclusion – this may not be safe and there is still no evidence it is effective. Things went quiet in the USA after that though nothing is in fact resolved there since the states who mandate offering progesterone have not been ordered to rescind that requirement.

It is certainly the case that some women arrange for an abortion and then change their minds. The only justification given in the past for enforcing a “waiting period” (1-3 days usually) was to allow space for a change of mind. Those were the days of surgical methods only, and perhaps the mostly male doctors in those days believed women didn’t really know their own minds. It was just good old patriarchy taking charge if you ask me. With abortion pills, now that women can use them at home and therefore simply decide not to use them if they are uncertain, this makes no sense. In any case, women do know their own minds, including when they are not sure of something, and they can talk to their partners, or someone else they trust, and use the pills, or delay using them (or a surgical procedure too) until they’re sure – which is an excellent reason why the pills should be used at home and not when it’s convenient for the doctor.

I took a decision not to publish anything about it here in hopes it would die a natural death in the USA and not become an international issue – and indeed it did not, for several years – but it has certainly become one now. Whether anything the anti-abortion doctors interviewed by openDemocracy said is true, or not, is certainly open to question.

How to close the lid again on this can of worms, this Pandora’s box, I’m not sure, but I would like to set up a conversation about it.

I would also welcome reports from Campaign members on what they know has happened in their countries on this so far, if anything, and whether or not you think the information should be published. If you think it should not, please say so. It is still worth recording. I suspect the best thing the Campaign can do is to put together and share what is known from different countries, and ask those who have been involved in truth-seeking around these events in the USA to prepare a brief that would be relevant for national drug regulatory agencies in every country, because they have been dealing with this the longest and have the expertise to do that. Then it could be shared with their governments by Campaign members.

CONTACT Marge Berer: info@safeabortionwomensright.org