County misinfo bill tabled as AG alleges fraud by some crisis pregnancy centers

Albany County legislators have tabled their controversial bill that would ban misinformation out of non-medically-accredited facilities known as crisis pregnancy centers, but some of these centers are now being sued for violating existing state laws.

On May 6, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against anti-abortion organization Heartbeat International and 11 pregnancy centers, seeking to strike what the suit describes as “false and misleading claims” around a treatment that is meant to stop abortion pills a woman has already taken from working. 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, medication abortion relies on two different drugs taken at an interval. The first drug, mifepristone, stops pregnancy growth by blocking the hormone progesterone, while the later drug, misoprostol, causes the uterus to contract and vacate. 

Heartbeat International and its affiliates claim that this process can be halted and reversed by reintroducing progesterone after a woman has taken mifepristone, but before she has taken progesterone. The site, which is named in the lawsuit, notes a success rate of up to 68 percent. 

However, the treatment has been discredited altogether by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It claims that the evidence in favor of abortion pill reversal comes from case series studies, which are not controlled experiments but observations of a particular treatment given to a number of patients. 

Several of the case series dealing with abortion reversal, it says, had “no ethics approval, no control group, under-reporting of data, and no reported safety outcomes,” calling such studies “the weakest form of medical evidence.”

Politifact, a non-partisan, not-for-profit fact-checking website, has taken studies supporting abortion-pill reversal to task for the same reasons. Besides the lack of clarity around safety concerns, it reports that it is unclear whether the administration of progesterone partway through a medication abortion actually affected the outcome, or if the pregnancy continued simply because the second pill was not taken. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that the first abortion pill alone is only effective at terminating a pregnancy around half the time — not far from the claimed efficacy of the reversal treatment. 

“Claims regarding abortion ‘reversal’ treatment are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards,” it says. “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) ranks its recommendations on the strength of the evidence and does not support prescribing progesterone to stop a medication abortion.”


AG’s suit

Attorney General James’s 71-page lawsuit alleges that various promotional material for the treatment makes misrepresentations and omissions that violate the state’s General Business Law, which prohibits deceptive acts and false advertising. It also alleges that the actions constitute fraud. 

The overall false impressions left by the huge sum of material cited in the lawsuit are, according to James, that:

— The effects of an abortion pill can be reversed;

— Reversal is proven to be safe;

— The treatment has been proven to be safe and increases the chances of a healthy pregnancy; and

— The treatment is supported by medical consensus.

It reality, the suit claims:

— No studies have provided robust and reliable evidence that the process can be reversed or that reversal treatment is safe, and it has never received approval from the Federal Drug Administration;

— No clinical trials have been completed to prove the safety and effectiveness of the treatment, with the only attempt having been abandoned over safety concerns when three participants experienced severe bleeding, which the study’s authors said may be a risk factor for women in early pregnancy who take only mifepristone; and that

– The studies that have been completed are flawed, for the reasons explained above.

The lawsuit, which says that defendants are “free to use lawful means to attempt to persuade pregnant individuals to continue their pregnancies rather than have an abortion, in furtherance of their mission and their beliefs,” asks that all violating material be removed, and that the state be awarded $5,000 per violation, among other fees. 


Preemptive response

In advance of James’s lawsuit, the Thomas More Society — a far-right legal group that had threatened Albany County legislators with a lawsuit upon learning about the proposed misinformation bill — preemptively sued James, who was characterized by the society’s executive vice president and head of litigation Peter Breen, in a statement sent to The Enterprise, as trying to “jeopardize the Christian and life-affirming missions of Heartbeat International, CompassCare, and all similar pro-life ministries in New York.”

“Ms. James should ‘follow the science’ and face the facts: Abortion Pill Reversal is a safe and effective option for pregnant mothers who have taken the first abortion pill, immediately regret it, and seek to save their unborn babies’ lives,” the statement reads. 

“The administration of supplemental progesterone, which is the heart of the Abortion Pill Reversal protocol, has been used for decades to help pregnant women at serious risk for miscarriage. And thousands of pregnant women, at risk of miscarriage because of taking the abortion pill, were able to have healthy babies because of the timely application of supplemental progesterone through the Reversal protocol.”

In a statement, Heartbeat International said that the lawsuit “is a clear attempt to censor speech, leaving women who regret their chemical abortions in the dark, and ultimately forcing them to complete an abortion they no longer want,” and accuses James of not following the science.

The attorney general’s office responded to these statements through The Enterprise with one from James, who said, “Abortions cannot be reversed. Any treatments that claim to do so are made without scientific evidence and could be unsafe. Heartbeat International and the other crisis pregnancy center defendants are spreading dangerous misinformation by advertising 'abortion reversals' without any medical and scientific proof. 

“Amid the increase in attacks on reproductive health care nationwide, we must protect pregnant people’s right to make safe, well-informed decisions about their health. Your reproductive health care decisions are yours and yours alone, and my office will always protect New Yorkers from those who push a scientifically unproven and potentially life-threatening intervention.” 

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