This week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with Dr. Matthew Harrison, a pro-life family physician in Charlotte, NC, and associate director of Culture of Life Family Services, about the Abortion Pill Reversal Method, which he helped to pioneer in 2006.
INTRODUCTION: Dr. Harrison is a pro-life family physician based in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, who is associate director of Culture of Life Family Services. He is also the Medical Director of the student health clinic at Belmont Abbey College, and instructor at the Campbell School of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Harrison is one of the pioneers of the Abortion Pill Reversal Method, which he used for the first time in 2006 to reverse an RU-486 chemical abortion on a woman who changed her mind after taking the abortion pill.
Dr. Harrison is with us today to talk about the Abortion Pill Reversal Method, how it can work to stop an RU-486 abortion, and how many lives have been saved since some pro-life doctors began using it.
JOHN RUSTIN: Before we talk about the Abortion Pill Reversal Method (or APR), I’d like to talk briefly about the RU-486 abortion regimen because I think it is important for our listeners to understand how RU-486 works in order to better understand how the reversal method works. What is RU-486, and how does it work to end the life of an unborn baby?
MATTHEW HARRISON: RU-486, which is also known as Mifepristone, or a brand name Mifeprix, is a medication that’s given anywhere between seven and nine weeks of pregnancy. And what it does is it mimics the progesterone that a woman’s body naturally has that is there to support the pregnancy. What this does is it blocks the receptors for the progesterone, and then progesterone is not really able to perform its natural function. So, when the progesterone receptor is blocked, then the baby essentially loses nutrients, loses oxygen, anything that supports that baby during the pregnancy. And essentially the placenta separates away from the uterine wall, and then the baby comes out, almost like a miscarriage.
JOHN RUSTIN: As I mentioned, in 2006 you used the Abortion Pill Reversal Method for the first time on a pregnant woman who had started the RU-486 pill regimen and changed her mind. Share with us, if you would, that story, and what happened to that young baby?
MATTHEW HARRISON: In 2006, I was working in my office, and I had relationships with different pregnancy resource centers in the area, and one of the pregnancy centers called me, and said they had a young lady call them and tell them that she had just taken RU-486, and that she regretted it, and wanted to do whatever she could to save the baby. I really had no idea what to do, but I asked them to send her right over. So, Ashley actually came to my office, and she was a 19 year-old young lady. There’s really no antidote, there’s nothing we’ve been trained to do in this situation, so I told her I just really needed to walk out of the exam room and pray about it, which is exactly what I did. I went into my office, and I looked through what’s called The Physician’s Desk Reference, which is a large book that has all the medications that we use. And I started thinking about how RU-486 worked. In our office at that time, my partner had gone through training for fertility treatments using progesterone. And so I started thinking, if RU-486 is like a key that fits into the lock, but doesn’t turn it, then progesterone is a key that fits into the lock but does turn it, so why don’t we just throw a bunch of extra good keys into the mix, so that we can out-compete the bad keys, in other words RU-486? And hopefully the progesterone will kind of overpower the RU-486, take its place and be able to do its job. So pretty much, just replacing progesterone that was being blocked by the RU-486.
I explained this to the young lady, and I said, “Look, this hasn’t been done, and this could cause prolonged bleeding, and a prolonged abortion, and the baby might still die, and then you would have to have a surgical removal.” But she said that she was willing to accept those chances, and do what she could to save her baby. So we gave her an injection, and started praying for the best. That weekend, she started to bleed, so she called us, and we said let’s just go to the emergency room, and see how your baby’s doing. And so she went and fortunately she got to see the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, which [the abortion clinic] had not shown her when she got the Abortion Pill, and the [emergency room] doctor said, “Just go home and pray for the best,” which she did. And she thankfully stopped bleeding. She came in Monday, and we were able to re-confirm the heartbeat, and we continued progesterone injections twice a week up until she was about 28 weeks. And then she delivered a perfectly healthy little girl right at 40 weeks, full term, and that little girl is now eight years old and doing wonderfully! She’s very healthy, and she’s a cheerleader on her school’s football team. She has no problems at all. And so we were just really excited to meet that mom and maintain a relationship with the patient, because she’s really a hero in my eyes. She’s very brave, and really established a new way of looking at abortion for a lot of these women, who are sometimes coerced into abortion, and have a change of heart, and want to do something about it.
JOHN RUSTIN: Wow, that is an exciting story! Thank you for sharing that with us. It’s amazing how the Lord really opened your eyes and mind to the options and opportunities there, and thank you for your willingness to kind of step out and seek a new method of treatment for this. How many other women have you personally treated with APR therapy, and what were the results?
MATTHEW HARRISON: Personally, I’ve actually only treated one more because obviously this is not something that occurs really frequently. But right now there are about 182 babies that have been born healthy, and there are about 76 other women that are currently going through the protocol to reverse their abortions, and those babies are doing very well. And we are very excited, and these moms are very excited as well.
JOHN RUSTIN: What role does timing play in terms of the success rate of this type of treatment?
MATTHEW HARRISON: The earlier the better, and of course this is very new science. We’re still collecting data and hope to be publishing some more data soon. But it definitely seems like you need to act within the first 72 hours and also before the second medication, which is a labor inducing medicine. And so normally women take the Abortion Pill, and then 48 or 72 hours later, they take a second medication, and this medication causes them to go into labor, and then they expel the baby. So obviously we need to get the progesterone acting as quickly as possible. And then it also makes a difference as to how early a woman is in her pregnancy, so the earlier she is in her pregnancy when she takes the Abortion Pill, the more effective it is in killing the baby. And so if she is nine and a half weeks pregnant—which is actually not FDA approved, but is what we see a lot in practice—those babies have a better chance of surviving. So we don’t want women to think, “Oh, it’s too late.” We want them to come talk to us and see what they can do. And even women we have found that have still lost their babies have felt a sense of relief and felt like, “At least I tried to do something to try to correct a mistake that I had made.” And so we are even seeing some benefits in the cases where women still lose their baby.
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Harrison, I know you are part of a growing network of pro-life doctors who are using the Abortion Pill Reversal Method. How may physicians nationwide are you working with, and in the process of this are you working in partnership with pregnancy resource centers?
MATTHEW HARRISON: Yes, we have over 300 physicians nationwide, and we have had reversals in 14 countries across the world, so this is spreading all over. And the way it works is when a woman regrets taking this pill and wants to change it, we have a website and a mobile application that if they just Google search “Abortion Pill Reversal,” or anything related to that, then our website and our mobile site will pop up. They call a 1-800 number, and we have that staffed by nurses who are wonderful at what they do. They find out where the woman is located, get all the information, and we then contact our network of physicians and get them to the one that’s closest to them. Now, we are having more medical pregnancy resources coming on board. Each one of those pregnancy centers has a physician medical director, who is in charge of maintaining these protocols and making sure that everything is done correctly.
JOHN RUSTIN: It’s great to see that network continue to grow. Now, I do want to give you an opportunity to answer some of the critics of the Abortion Pill Reversal Method, who say, “Hey, there’s no scientific evidence that this method works, and there haven’t been any peer reviewed scientific studies.” How would you respond to those critics, and what they are saying to try to cast doubt on the effectiveness of this method?
MATTHEW HARRISON: It’s really our job as scientists to cast doubt and to question, and that’s what makes a good physician is questioning the established medicine, and you’ll never improve unless you do ask questions. And so like any other type of new medical development, we start with case studies. So, in 2012, Dr. George Delgado and Mary Davenport, who I work with at Culture of Life Family Services, published a series of case studies in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, and of the first six reversals were published in that journal. And four of those embryos survived and went on to have healthy deliveries, and two did not. And so a case study journal article really is just a presentation of medical events that have happened to ask the question, “Is this something that we should look into further?” And so we certainly got a lot of response from that article and a lot more people said, “You know, this does look like there’s some merit to it.” Of course, science always has to make logical sense and scientific sense, and so what I explained earlier about how progesterone works in combating RU-486 makes logical medical, scientific sense. And so then you get some case studies, which we already have, and studies like this really have to be done in what we call a retrospective manner. You’re not going take 1,000 pregnant women, give them all RU-486, and then give half of them progesterone, and half of them placebo. That wouldn’t be ethical. So, what we need to do is take cases where women have decided for themselves to reverse their abortions, and then also the women have decided which method of reversal they prefer, as we’ve used other methods of progesterone delivery. So that makes the data a little bit more difficult to kind of evaluate, but the utmost importance in this is the health and safety of the mother and the baby. Also you know, these women been through a traumatic event already, and we’re not here to force them into some strict scientific protocol. It’s really something that the doctor and the patient work out as to what’s the best way to go about doing this for her health, and safety and peace of mind. So it will take longer to collect this information [that is useful for research].
JOHN RUSTIN: Dr. Harrison, unfortunately, we’re just about out of time for this week, but I did want to let you have the opportunity to tell our listeners where they can go to find out more about the Abortion Pill Reversal Method.
MATTHEW HARRISON: Yes, the best place to go is www.abortionpillreversal.com, and folks can get everything they need to know right there.
JOHN RUSTIN: Excellent. And with that, Dr. Matthew Harrison, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk with us today, and for your life-saving work on behalf of women and unborn babies.
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