(Image: Private Media)

A South Australia-based Christian “pregnancy support” not-for-profit is promoting medical abortion reversals, a controversial and unapproved treatment that the organisation claims can counteract an attempt to terminate a pregnancy. 

Genesis Pregnancy Support is an anti-abortion Christian organisation launched in 1991 to provide support for people experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. The organisation said it has “50-60 staff and volunteers” who provide counselling, baby gear and medical information. Its website includes information about a medical abortion reversal procedure and promises to connect patients with a doctor to provide treatment.

People seeking an abortion have a choice between a medical or surgical option. A medical abortion uses the combination of two medicines, mifepristone and misoprostol, taken within 24-48 hours of each other. Medical abortion is approved in Australia for use up to nine weeks’ gestation.

Proponents of the abortion reversal treatment such as Genesis Pregnancy Support say it’s possible to counteract the effects of a medical abortion and “save” a pregnancy by giving patients a dose of hormone progesterone soon after they have taken the first abortion pill (mifepristone). 

Experts disagree. In 2020, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) said its review of evidence did not support the use of the treatment, calling it “unproven and unethical”. Dismissing some low quality observational studies cited by reversal proponents, the body cites a 2020 study which was halted due to safety concerns for those participants receiving progesterone as part of a reversal procedure. 

University of Sydney faculty of medicine and health professor Deborah Bateson went further, calling reversals a discredited procedure primarily promoted by anti-abortion groups across the United States, the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Australia. She shared the same concerns about patient safety, but also said promoting such a procedure might misrepresent the very low rates of abortion regret.

“I’ve worked in abortion services for quite a few years. The possibility of women changing their mind after taking the first step, in a very short time frame, without any coercion — it’s extremely unlikely,” she said.

Bateson said a doctor could in theory prescribe an off-label use of progesterone for a medical abortion reversal, but doing so would require a high level of evidence to support such a use: “It would be a rare doctor who would.”

Genesis Pregnancy Support executive officer Julie Sharpe defended evidence supporting the procedure. She cited a 2018 observational paper, a type of study that was criticised by the ACOG as being inferior to controlled, approved studies. Sharpe also told Crikey that the organisation had only referred a single patient to a doctor for a reversal in the last six months.

Genesis Pregnancy Support’s services are geared towards encouraging people to forgo abortions in favour of keeping a pregnancy. The organisation’s information on abortions highlight the side effects and risks associated with abortions. The registered charity also runs retreats for people who’ve had abortions promising to lead them to “emotional and spiritual peace”. 

The charity lists its chairperson as Anthony Moore, who also is associated with a number of other Christian schools and early learning centre. Last year Southland Church’s Rob Norman, a pastor who joined the SA Liberal Party and told his congregation that it was part of their Christian mission to join political parties, said his church was looking to work with Genesis Pregnancy Support going forward.

“There’s many ways of fighting these things,” he said.

Ultimately, Bateson worries that medical misinformation about abortion risks putting vulnerable people at harm. 

“False claims regarding the legitimacy of abortion reversal undermines women’s choices,” she said.