As soon as next year, a health clinic that aims to steer women away from abortion could open next door to the new Planned Parenthood office on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, but its location is likely not nearly as controversial as one of its services.
The Woman's New Life Center, which already has offices in Metairie and Baton Rouge, plans to bring so-called "abortion reversal" to New Orleans. It says the treatment can stop an abortion if administered soon after a woman takes the first of two chemical abortion pills.
”We work with the doctors that are trained in that protocol,” said Angela Thomas, the clinic's CEO. “It’s really a beautiful program.”
The Woman’s New Life Center would also offer natural family planning counseling, counseling for pregnant women and those who already have had abortions, annual gynecological exams and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. It does not advertise artificial birth control methods.
The abortion reversal method was pioneered in 2012 by Dr. George Delgado, a California physician who identifies with the pro-life movement. Critics, who include medical associations, say it is untested; about 250 women were said to have undergone the procedure last year.
The reversal method is aimed at women who have recently taken one of the two pills typically used to induce a chemical abortion. The first is mifepristone, also known as RU-486, which blocks projesterone, the hormone in women’s bodies that is necessary to sustain pregnancy, said Susan Caldwell, one of the clinic’s doctors. The second pill, misoprostol, causes the uterus to empty and is taken within 24 to 48 hours after the first.
Women with viable pregnancies who haven’t yet taken the second pill and decide they don't want to go through with an abortion are prescribed progesterone throughout their first trimester, Caldwell said. Progesterone has several FDA-approved uses, but abortion reversal is not one of them.
The success rate is about 55 percent, according to Delgado’s program’s website.
Proponents say the drug works and provides a safe alternative for women who change their mind about terminating their pregnancies. The Woman's New Life Center currently offers the treatment at its other Louisiana offices, both of which are near current or former abortion clinics.
But the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a national association of women’s health physicians, blasted the method in a fact sheet. “There are no ACOG guidelines that support this course of action,” the group wrote.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, asked about its soon-to-be neighbor’s practices, echoed that sentiment on Friday.
“Organizations that attempt to deceive women seeking urgent reproductive health care with inaccurate and misleading information are a threat to the safety of women in Louisiana,” the group said in a statement.
Further, the doctors association said the “reversal” might not really reverse anything. Even without administering progesterone, pregnancies will continue in about 30 to 50 percent of women who only take mifepristone, the group said.
Amid the conflicting opinions, the Louisiana Legislature asked the state Department of Health this spring to study whether the method has any merit and report back by next year’s legislative session.
South Dakota and Arkansas have passed laws requiring doctors to tell women about the treatment; Arizona passed one but then repealed it.
So far, private donors have provided $1.5 million of the $1.8 million the center needs to erect a new office in the sliver of green space between Planned Parenthood’s South Claiborne Avenue site and the chiropractic office next door, Thomas said. The clinic could be open in less than a year, once the money is raised, she said.
It’s not an accident that the Woman’s New Life Center is setting up shop near Planned Parenthood, which has said it will provide abortions at its new facility in New Orleans. It already has locations near the Delta Women’s Clinic in Baton Rouge and the former Causeway Medical Clinic in Metairie.
“We want to be available to women and meet them where they are,” Thomas said. “No judgment, no advice giving.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond recently blessed the ground where the center will be built, The Clarion Herald reported.