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Colorado healthcare clinic sues state over law banning use of hormone that reverses effects of abortion pill

A pro-life healthcare clinic sues Colorado for enacting law that prevents doctors from prescribing a commonly used hormone to combat the effects of the abortion pill mifepristone.

A Catholic healthcare clinic in Colorado filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a state law that makes it illegal to offer women a hormone in an attempt to reverse the effects of the abortion pill if a woman regrets her decision to end her pregnancy. 

The OB-GYN practice at Bella Health and Wellness (BHW) offers progesterone, a commonly prescribed and naturally occurring hormone used to treat pregnant women at risk of miscarriage whether it occurs naturally or due to the effects of the abortion pill mifepristone. BHW offers progesterone to women who change their minds after taking the abortion pill, citing firsthand evidence where the hormone has successfully reversed the effects of a miscarriage caused by the abortion pill with no negative side effects. 

Colorado's Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the "Safe Access to Protected Health Care" package of legislation into law Friday, making it illegal for healthcare clinics like Bella Health to advertise or offer the hormone treatment to women after they have taken the abortion pill. However, it is still legal for healthcare clinics to offer the hormone to women in other circumstances like a natural miscarriage. 

Under the law, BHW and similar organizations would face a $20,000 fine per violation and a potential loss of their medical licenses. 

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In the lawsuit, filed after the bill was signed into law on Friday, BHW asked the U.S. District Court in Colorado to strike down the law, arguing it targets clinics with a religious mission to provide "life affirming care." By enforcing this law, they argue women will be forced to go through with abortions even when they decide they want to continue their pregnancies after taking the abortion pill, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (BFRL), the group representing BHW in the case. 

"Colorado’s new law is the opposite of choice—it targets women who have changed their minds and forces them to undergo abortions they want to stop," Laura Wolk Slavis, counsel at the BFRL told Fox News Digital in a statement. "This law tramples the constitutional rights of these women and their doctors. We are grateful for the court’s late-night order halting this draconian law, allowing our clients to continue their good work of serving women in need."

State legislators have labeled the use of progesterone when used as a way to reverse the effects of mifepristone as "deceptive" and "unprofessional conduct." 

SB 23-190, which refers to clinics like BHW as "anti-abortion centers," says they "go so far as to advertise medication abortion reversal, a dangerous and deceptive practice that is not supported by science or clinical standards, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or by the United States Food and Drug Administration."

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The American Medical Association states that physicians "do not and cannot, without misleading them, tell their patients that it may be possible to reverse a medication abortion." Although, BHW explained in its lawsuit that it "informs each woman that the use of progesterone to attempt to reverse the effects of mifepristone is an off-label use and that success is not guaranteed."

Dr. Ingrid Skop, an OB-GYN who serves as vice president and director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told Fox News Digital that it is "unfortunate that we're seeing legislative interference with standard medical practice."

"About 20% of drugs that physicians prescribe are prescribed off label, so there's nothing dangerous about off label use as long as you know it has been studied and as long as doctors obtain informed consent from patients about what we do and what we don't know about the medications," she said. 

She called it "inappropriate" that medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association are strongly speaking out against progesterone in this situation, because they are "very pro-abortion."

"Abortion scientifically ends a human life, so it's interesting that we have so many medical organizations that are promoting life ending drugs, and really they're promoting it for social reasons," she said. "Abortion is a proposed solution to social problems in almost every situation, because it's very, very rare that an abortion needs to be done for a health reason for a woman." 

"It's just something to be aware of that these medical organizations that are calling it unethical or [are] speaking out and saying that it doesn't work," she added. "They're doing so for ideological reasons, they're not doing so because there's strong evidence that it's harmful for a woman or for her baby."

Skop explained that progesterone, as the name implies, is a pro gestational hormone that is necessary for a pregnancy to continue. While most women produce adequate levels of progesterone naturally, she said there are a multitude of situations where doctors will prescribe supplemental progesterone, including to combat the effects of mifepristone. 

"It's not uncommon for women to consume that first medication and then change their mind and want to perform an action to try to prevent the mifepristone from causing an abortion," Skop said. "When that happens, there are many doctors who will prescribe progesterone, it makes sense physiologically."

BHW argues the state cannot decide that certain topics are off limits for health care providers and their patients simply because the state "does not like the message that women can choose to change their minds."

"SB 23-190 creates a religious gerrymander by targeting a subset of religiously motivated actors while failing to pursue the same alleged state interest against those who provide, prescribe, and administer progesterone off-label for uses other than abortion pill reversal," the lawsuit states. 

The lawsuit cited a 2018 study where 547 women underwent progesterone therapy within 72 hours after taking mifepristone, which saw an overall success rate of 28%. The subgroup that received progesterone intramuscularly saw a 64% fetal survival rates while the subgroup that received a high dose of oral progesterone followed by daily oral progesterone until the end of the first trimester saw a 68% survival rate. The study concluded that "The reversal of the effects of mifepristone using progesterone is safe and effective." 

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BHW also cited a case that took place hours before the Colorado law took effect, where a woman contacted the clinic to request their help in reversing an abortion after she had taken mifepristone. The patient reportedly received an initial dose of progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone and is now under follow-up care.

"If they say that a woman should have the choice of whether to continue a pregnancy or not, then in this case, they're actually actively going against that woman's choice by not allowing her an intervention that may save her pregnancy," Skop said. "I don't know if they've thought it through that way, but that's the way I see it. That's not the purpose of a state legislation to actually go against the wishes of the patient in this situation."

BHW was founded by a Catholic mother and daughter nurse practitioners Dede Chism and Abby Sinnett after they traveled to the Andes Mountains of Peru on a medical mission trip, where they were moved to open a Catholic medical clinic for women in the Denver metropolitan area. What started as an OB-GYN practice has since expanded to healthcare for men and children in the Denver area, serving over 20,000 patients and averaging approximately two hundred new patients a month.

"We opened Bella because of our belief that life is a precious gift from God, worthy of protection at all stages," Chism, cofounder and CEO at BHW, said in a statement. "When a woman seeks our help to reverse the effects of the abortion pill, we have a religious obligation to offer every available option for her and her child."

The Colorado district court has granted emergency relief to BHW which protects them from the law and a hearing on April 24 will decide if they can continue prescribing progesterone while the case makes its way through court. 

"We believe that pregnant women who come to us hoping for a second chance at life for their child deserve the utmost respect and care in the choice they have made for their baby’s life," Chism and Sinnett said in a joint statement to Fox News Digital. "We are grateful for the late-night order allowing us to continue this work and are hopeful that the court will ultimately allow us to continue to serve these women."

"No woman, let alone her unborn child, should ever be turned away from the life-affirming healthcare they choose," they added. 

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