An Interview with George Delgado, M.D., and Debbie Bradel, R.N., pioneers of the Abortion Pill Reversal program.
George Delgado, M.D. received his medical degree from the University of California, Davis and completed his residency at Santa Monica Hospital/UCLA. He is board certified in family medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine. Dr. Delgado completed the year-long Certification Program in Health Care Ethics offered by the National Catholic Bioethics Center and is trained in NaProTECHNOLOGY. He has been practicing family medicine since 1988.
Debbie Bradel is a registered nurse. She received her nursing degree from the University of Arizona in 1976 and has been working in family practice for 38 years.
What is your background in terms of your upbringing and your early attitude toward abortion?
Dr. Delgado: I grew up in Northern California, the sixth of seven sons in a Catholic immigrant family from Colombia. I have always been pro-life and have always opposed abortion. Earlier in my career, I did prescribe contraception until I read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which had a profound effect on me.
Debbie Bradel: I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, the oldest of six children, daughter of a mailman and school cafeteria lady who loved us very much. I was baptized Catholic on my fourth day of life and went to daily Mass throughout grade school. I went to college eight miles from home straight out of high school and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing when I was 21.
I was always prolife and when abortion became legal, I was a freshman in college. I knew two girls who had one that year, but neither of them came to me for advice as they knew I would talk them out of it.
Tell us about the Culture of Life Family Services and how you got involved with it.
Dr. Delgado: COLFS is a Catholic, pro-life organization dedicated to promoting the sanctity of life. We promote this by working very closely with our sister organization, Culture of Life Family Health Care, which is a pro-life family medical group that offers medical care for all ages that is entirely consistent with traditional Christian principles as set forth by the Catholic Church. COLFS also has a strong group of Client Advocates who offer supportive counseling to pregnant women, especially those in crises. We also offer ultrasound examinations. Our outreach and education includes the establishment of college and high school pro-life clubs.
Debbie: COLFS was started by a Catholic deacon who dreamed of a medical practice where patients could go to receive medical care and spiritual support. He organized other deacons to be available for this service in the office while the doctors were providing treatment. As an extension of this and Catholic social teaching, the support for women in unplanned pregnancies blossomed. Many benefactors stepped up to cover medical costs and provide some material support to help women choose life. I was a sidewalk counselor for many years and when COLFS was looking for a nurse to manage the Crisis Support part of the practice, it was a natural fit for me to take over.
Tell us about the development of the RU-486 reversal program. What evidence did you see of the need for such a protocol that led you to work on it?
Dr. Delgado: We have established an exciting program called APR (Abortion Pill Reversal) to assist women who have taken mifepristone (RU 486) and change their minds. Our success rate is about 60%; we have kept track of about 65 mothers who have delivered healthy babies and another 90 to 100 are pregnant. I have published a case series report in a peer-reviewed medical journal, Annals of Pharmacotherapy, and plan a second article when we have 200 deliveries.
APR has been steadily growing. Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is planning a press conference on Monday February 23, 2015 in Washington, DC, to increase the awareness of APR. Dr. Mary Davenport, other doctors in the APR network, and I will be speaking at the news conference.
Debbie: APR got its start when a sidewalk counselor in Bakersfield, Terri Palmquist, got a call from a woman in Texas who had found her phone number online. Terri didn’t know anything about reversing the abortion pill, but she called Life Legal board member Colette Wilson who referred her to Dr. Delgado. Using his knowledge of the benefits of natural progesterone, he directed the woman to a local pro-life doctor and suggested to him how much progesterone to use. That baby was saved. He did the same for 3 other women who also had successful reversals, and when the data was complete in May 2012, Dr. Delgado asked me to take calls 24/7 from women who found his project online when they were looking for a way to reverse their chemical abortion.
Planned Parenthood envisions 66% of the abortions they provide to be of the chemical type, so I see the need for the APR program growing because the majority of women who call the APR hotline report being pressured to take the abortion pill and regret it soon after. Working in the APR program has been one of the most relevant experiences in my life in contributing to my growth in holiness as I have had to surrender my skills to God’s grace to accomplish His work.
How does APR work?
Dr. Delgado: Medication abortions, that is abortions with the abortion pill, involve two steps. The first step is an oral dose of mifepristone taken at the doctor’s office. This pill alone will cause a “complete” abortion about 80% of the time. But to decrease that 20% “failure” rate, misoprostol tablets are taken orally or inserted vaginally about 36 to 72 hours after taking the mifepristone. These tablets will cause contractions and expel the remains of the embryo.
When a woman changes her mind after the first pill, she can seek APR. First, she has a sonogram to confirm the baby is alive and in the uterus. She then receives progesterone, which counteracts the effects of the mifepristone and can help her continue to have a healthy, developing pregnancy. By taking the progesterone, she will almost triple the chances of her baby surviving, from 20% or less survival without progesterone to almost 60% with it.
Is there any concern that the abortion pill itself will have already harmed the baby before the woman starts taking progesterone, so the baby would be born with health problems or deformities?
Dr. Delgado: There is limited scientific study regarding the risks of birth defects in babies who have survived exposure to mifepristone (RU 486). The consensus is that mifepristone either does not cause birth defects or only raises the risk slightly.
The story is different with babies exposed to the second pill, misoprostol. There is strong evidence showing that misoprostol causes birth defects in 4-15% of unborn babies exposed to it. Most women who change their minds have only taken mifepristone and have not yet taken the second pill, misoprostol.
You mention that there is an “APR network” of doctors. Where is the protocol now in terms of acceptance in the medical community?
Dr. Delgado: The protocol is receiving increased acceptance by pro-life medical professionals. The more pro-life the physicians, the more eager they have been to learn about and accept the protocol. Those who are not pro-life seem to have little interest in giving women a second chance at choice.
Debbie: The NaPro and prolife doctors say yes right away. They already use progesterone to prevent miscarriage so it makes sense it could work for mifepristone reversal. Non-prolife doctors are skeptical, but some have helped. We have 226 doctors in 42 states, 8 in Australia, England, South Africa, Ireland, Gibraltar and Canada. New York, California, Florida and North Carolina are where most of the patient calls originate and we have a good number of doctors in those states.
How do you get the word out about the program and protocol to women who have taken RU-486? Through pro-life pregnancy centers and doctors? But then how do you get the word to them?
Debbie: The most common way women who have taken the abortion pill hear about us is through our website (abortionpillreversal.com). They then call the 24/7 telephone hotline which is staffed by nurses. We’re using flyers, articles, webinars, and speaking engagements to reach medical professionals, pro-life pregnancy centers, and counselors.
Dr. Delgado: To reach physicians in particular, I will be giving an update talk at the American Association of Pro-Life Ob Gyns conference in February and a bioethics talk in May, as well as speaking at other conferences around the country.
What are the main factors that, according to your patients, caused them to change their minds and seek your help?
Dr. Delgado: The natural law, which is written in their hearts, compels them to try to save their unborn babies.
Debbie: Many also say they were pressured to abort by the providers and/or family, and they didn’t really want to do it, but felt they had to. Even a doctor told me she felt “trapped like a mouse in the clinic” and couldn’t believe she still took the abortion pill.
Have you gotten any feedback on what the abortion clinics are saying about your program? Do they know about you?
Debbie: They don’t like us but so far, no direct damage has been done to the program. Some articles published recently indicate that the APR is getting more attention, from both sides of the abortion debate. Patients tell us the abortion clinics tell them that they have to finish or they will have a deformed baby.
Dr. Delgado: The current data are very promising, supporting that using progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone, RU 486, is safe and effective. Our goal is that this treatment will become the standard of medical care.
There are many women who have second thoughts after taking mifepristone, RU 486. If those who call themselves “pro-choice” really believe in choice, they should support giving these women who change their minds a second chance at choice.
Originally published in Lifeline Vol. XXIV, No. 1 (Winter 2015)