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November 23, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 2


Abortion pill reversal hotline saves lives

Most people have at least heard of the “abortion pill” — RU-486 — but many may not know that there is a way to possibly reverse its effects.

The Abortion Pill Reversal hotline, a crisis line for women who have already begun the RU-486 protocol, directs callers to a doctor in their area who may be able to intervene and stop the abortion from being completed. Intervention must occur before the second medication in the protocol is taken, and optimally within 24 hours after taking the first medication.

To understand how the reversal works, it is necessary to know what RU-486 does to cause a woman to abort. RU-486 — mifepristone — is prescribed within the first 7-9 weeks of pregnancy. It blocks the effects of progesterone, which is a necessary hormone for the placenta (the connection in the uterus between the mother and the fetus).

This leads to the death of the fetus due to the breakdown of the placenta. Approximately 36-72 hours after the mifepristone is given, misoprostol is administered. This medication will cause contractions and expel the remains of the baby. The process takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete.

Afterward, a medical exam is required to ensure that the abortion is complete and to check for complications.

To reverse the effects of the abortion pill, the mother should ideally begin the reversal treatment within 24 hours of taking RU-486. However, it is possible for the treatment to work as long as it is started within 72 hours. The mother receives a dose of progesterone, either by injection, orally, or vaginally. An ultrasound is done as soon as possible to make sure the baby is still alive. If the baby survives (there is a 60 percent success rate), progesterone treatments will continue through the first trimester.

Dr. Karen Poehailos has served as the Natural Family Planning Coordinator for the Richmond Diocese since 2011 and on the Abortion Pill Reversal hotline for the past several years.

“By giving extra progesterone,” Dr. Poehailos explains, “the hope is to override the mifepristone, which blocks your body’s own progesterone.”

Dr. Poehailos wants women who have taken RU-486 to be aware that they can do something.

“Women think once they’ve done it, that’s it,” she said. But that’s not necessarily true. Thanks to the hotline, to date there have been 135 babies delivered, and over 80 more women are currently pregnant and doing well. One of those deliveries took place here in the Richmond Diocese.

“I got to hold the baby on the day of delivery. It was just amazing,” recalls Dr. Poehailos, who was the physician responsible for administering the reversal to the pregnant woman in our diocese. The baby girl was born healthy and without complications.

Dr. Poehailos thinks of her services as “a pro-life emergency room.”

“It’s so immediate and emotional,” she said. She keeps progesterone in her office at all times for hotline emergencies. Of the three cases in which she has been called to help, one baby has been saved. In the other two cases, one mother changed her mind and didn’t go through with the reversal, and the other mother lost the baby despite the reversal attempt.

“I’ve cried happy tears and I’ve cried sad ones,” said Dr. Poehailos, describing the emotional nature of serving on the hotline, which encourages counseling for the women in crisis as well.

Dr. Poehailos remembers the moment when she first heard about the reversal process. In 2010, at a conference of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled, “Human Fertility — Where Faith and Science Meet,” another physician told Dr. Poehailos about a woman who had approached her about having a reversal done; the doctor tried progesterone on the pregnant woman and it worked.

“I thought,” recalled Dr. Poehailos, “wouldn’t it be great if I could get comfortable enough with progesterone to do this?”

She went to the Natural Procreative Technology Medical Consultant Course the following year, learning to use progesterone in their protocols.

“I was at least going to try to get involved in some way,” she said.

RU-486 does not appear to cause birth defects. In both the RU-486 and the progesterone used in the reversal, the placenta is what’s being affected, not the baby.

If the progesterone is able to combat what the RU-486 is doing, the placenta will survive, and so will the fetus. Progesterone is a hormone that women produce naturally, so it doesn’t have any adverse effects.

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It is important to note that the abortion pill is not the same thing as the morning after pill, which is taken up to 72 hours after intercourse and can prevent the implantation of the embryo into the lining of the uterus.

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