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Pro-life groups see challenges with increased use of abortion pill

More than half of all abortions in the United States are from the abortion pill; enforcing laws against distribution remains a challenge, pro-lifers say

Becky Hagan became a mother at 17 and was getting her life together as she raised her child with her parents’ support. Anxious to move on from an abusive relationship with her child’s father, she bought a pregnancy test “to make sure all loose ends from the past relationship had really been severed,” she said.

Within about a minute of taking the test in a stall of a drugstore bathroom, Hagan saw two bright pink lines.

“This time, unlike when I was 17 and had my first baby, there was no silver lining,” she said. “This time, it felt like my life was over. It felt like everything I had worked so hard to achieve — the relationship with my parents, good grades in school, this identity that I so desperately wanted to preserve — was about to be thrown out the window.”

In a panic, Hagan told herself, “I have to have an abortion before anyone finds out,” she told attendees of the Pro-Life Women’s Conference, held June 23-25 in St. Charles.

Hagan said she felt abortion would be easier to deal with compared to raising the baby on her own or placing the child with an adoptive family. She searched online for abortion options and found medication abortion — sometimes called a chemical abortion or the abortion pill.

Rising prevalence of the abortion pill

Hagan is among a growing number of women who have turned to the abortion pill, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. In 2020, medication abortion accounted for 53% of abortions in the United States, according to a periodic census of known abortion providers conducted by the Guttmacher Institute. It’s the first time medication abortion has become the most commonly used method of abortion in the U.S. Guttmacher also reported a significant jump from 39% usage in 2017, when data was last reported.

“The abortion pill has changed abortion forever,” Hagan said.

After the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022, decisions on abortion laws were returned to individual states. Since then, there’s been increased focus on the abortion pill as a way to expand abortion access — especially among women in states where there are abortion restrictions, including Missouri.

The abortion pill typically involves a two-pill regimen of mifepristone, which blocks progesterone, a hormone that helps sustain a pregnancy; and misoprostol, taken 24-48 hours later, which induces contractions and expels the baby from the womb.

Current Missouri law, the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,” focuses on abortion providers, stating that “… no abortion shall be performed or induced upon a woman, except in cases of medical emergency. … A woman upon whom an abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subsection shall not be prosecuted for a conspiracy to violate the provisions of this subsection.”

Earlier this year, a coalition of pro-life opponents of mifepristone filed a lawsuit seeking to revoke the FDA’s approval of the drug, arguing the government violated its own safety standards when it first approved the drug in 2000.

Meanwhile, Missouri women continue to seek abortions in other states. They’re also finding other ways to access the abortion pill from out-of-state pharmacies and even overseas. Websites such as Plan C, sponsored by the National Women’s Health Network, publicly share information on how to obtain the abortion pill.

Widespread availability

With widespread availability, enforcing laws against the pills’ distribution has proven to be a challenge, said Deacon Sam Lee, a longtime pro-life lobbyist with Campaign Life Missouri.

In testimony last year before a Missouri Senate committee in favor of a bill to prohibit out-of-state pharmacies from shipping abortion drugs directly to patients, Deacon Lee demonstrated how easy it is to order the abortion pill online. On eBay, he found a seller from India offering packs of mifepristone and misoprostol. He received the pills within a few weeks. The customs label was marked “commercial sample” with a description of “candy.” The total cost for two kits, each containing five tablets: $29.90.

He said the purchase underscored that even after the overturn of Roe, abortion continues.

“Since the Dobbs decision came out and Missouri’s trigger law went into effect, there are lots of people who think (abortion) is really not a problem anymore,” Deacon Lee said. “When people think abortion is no longer an issue, that’s exactly when our opponents will find it easier to strike.”

Even with increased use of the abortion pill, there remains uncertainty about its effects, said Sheri Petruso, executive director of Birthright St. Charles.

“Women will say, ‘This is not what I thought it was going to be like,’” Petruso said, adding that clients describe more emotional and/or physical pain than they were expecting. Oftentimes, they will call Birthright seeking someone to talk to about the experience.

Abortion Pill Rescue Network

After Becky Hagan took the first pill, mifepristone, she immediately felt regret. She searched using keywords such as “regretting abortion pill” and “took abortion pill, don’t want to take second.”

She came across Heartbeat International’s Abortion Pill Rescue Network, which includes pregnancy help organizations and health care professionals who help women undo the effects of mifepristone by administering the hormone progesterone. (Once the second drug, misoprostol, has been taken, it’s generally too late to stop the abortion.)

Hagan called and was connected with a doctor who prescribed her progesterone and monitored her throughout her pregnancy.

“My story didn’t end there, it didn’t end in despair” with an abortion, she said. About seven-and-a-half months later, Hagan gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

A 2018 study by network founder Dr. George Delgado and other doctors found that intramuscular progesterone and high-dose oral progesterone were the most effective, with reversal rates of 64 percent and 68 percent, respectively. They also concluded that was significantly better than the 25 percent chance of the baby’s survival when no treatment is offered. More than 4,500 abortions have been successfully reversed through the network since its inception, according to the network.

Dr. Michael Dixon, a St. Louis OB/GYN who volunteers with the Abortion Pill Rescue Network, said one of the biggest challenges is administering progesterone in a timely manner, typically within a 24- to 72-hour timeframe.

Dr. Dixon advocated for an increased awareness of abortion pill reversal. “The information is online but they haven’t had to search for it,” he said. “They have to think about, is there a way to reverse it?”

>> Abortion Healing Ministry

The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate has an expansive Abortion Healing Ministry, which includes a Weekend of Hope and Healing, an intensive weekend retreat for women, men and couples. Up to six weeks of follow-up care is offered after the retreat. A Day of Hope and Healing retreat for women also is offered.

The next weekend retreat for men, women and couples will be held Sept. 15-17. The next day retreat for women will be held in the spring of 2024.

Other resources include:

• One-on-one pastoral care with confidential phone, text and email communication;

• Referrals to a priest for healing spiritual support, including the sacrament of reconciliation;

• Prayer and fellowship groups;

• Spiritual direction and healing prayer through the Catholic Renewal Center;

• Referrals for professional mental health counseling;

• Rachel’s Healing Garden;

• Rite of Naming & Commendation (healing prayer service for those who have lost an unborn child);

• Books, virtual resources and other support.

For more information on the Abortion Healing Ministry, call or text (314) 406-0815, email [email protected] or visit www.archstl.org/hope-healing.

Walking with Moms in Need

There are a variety of resources in the St. Louis area for women and men experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. A guide of organizations that offer financial, housing, emotional and/or spiritual support is available at walkingwithmomsstl.com.

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