Banned from saving babies: This NHS consultant says he’s helped dozens of desperate women who changed their minds after starting pills-by-post terminations. Now, after a complaint from abortion clinics, regulators have ordered him to stop
- Dermot Kearney treated women who regretted taking abortion polls
- Women have been able to carry out home abortions during the pandemic
- Dr Kearney prescribes a sex hormone which he claims can reverse its effects
- But a panel ordered him to stop offering the treatment which is not approved
An NHS doctor has been banned from trying to save the babies of women who regret starting controversial ‘pills-by-post’ abortions introduced because of the pandemic.
Since GP surgeries and clinics closed in lockdown, women have been able to carry out terminations at home by swallowing two powerful pills over 48 hours.
But hospital consultant Dermot Kearney has treated dozens of women who changed their minds after taking the first pill by prescribing a sex hormone which he claims reverses its effects.
Dermot Kearney (pictured) has been banned from trying to save the babies of women who regret starting controversial ‘pills-by-post’ abortions introduced because of the pandemic
Dr Kearney, who is president of the Catholic Medical Association, says the anguished women turned to him in desperation after the NHS provided no solution to their predicament, and he believes his interventions may have saved dozens of babies.
He says that if taken within about 24 hours of the first pill, the hormone progesterone doubles the chance of the foetus surviving from 25 per cent if nothing is done, to 50 per cent.
But earlier this month, a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panel ordered him to stop offering the treatment, which is not approved by health officials. The decision came after a complaint by abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices, formerly known as Marie Stopes International.
It is understood MSI claimed he inappropriately prescribed progesterone to a patient for a use not backed by evidence, failed to present a balanced picture of its benefits and risks, and imposed his anti-abortion beliefs on her.
Dr Kearney now faces a full ‘fitness to practise’ hearing, likely to be held later this year, where he could be struck off. The Mail on Sunday has been told that he will vigorously contest the allegations and is being supported by The Christian Legal Centre.
Three women he helped are to give evidence in his defence. One of them, ‘Laura’, said: ‘Without Dr Kearney’s help, the alternative would have been horrific. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself. I’d be racked with guilt, with the shame of what I did, for the rest of my life. He was so supportive, compassionate and completely non-judgmental – and there was no mention of religion.’
Dr Kearney, a cardiologist and emergency physician at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Tyne and Wear, has been told by the MPTS that ‘he must not prescribe, administer or recommend progesterone for abortion reversal treatments’. Otherwise, he can practise as normal until the hearing.
He began offering the treatment in April last year, at about the same time as the NHS started its ‘pills-by-post’ service as an emergency measure.
Ministers are considering making the scheme permanent – despite the concerns of hundreds of medics, revealed by The Mail on Sunday two weeks ago, who have written to Boris Johnson warning that it removes vital safeguards.
Since GP surgeries and clinics closed in lockdown, women have been able to carry out terminations at home by swallowing two powerful pills over 48 hours
Under this scheme, women are sent both abortion pills after a telephone consultation. Before the pandemic, they had to attend a face-to-face appointment at an abortion clinic. Most would have a scan to date the pregnancy, as the pills should only be used to terminate up to ten weeks’ gestation.
Women are told to take the second pill, misoprostol, which completes the abortion, 24 to 48 hours after taking the first, mifepristone, which starts it.
Advocates of ‘abortion reversal’ argue that termination can sometimes be stopped if progesterone is taken soon after mifepristone – preferably within hours – and the second pill is then avoided.
The first tablet works by blocking the uterus from absorbing progesterone, which is essential for pregnancy. But Dr Kearney and others say quickly flooding the body with synthetic progesterone overcomes the pill’s effect.
Many of the women found Dr Kearney after identifying American pro-life organisations offering ‘abortion reversal’ on the internet, which then referred them to him.
Last month, Dr Kearney told The Mail on Sunday that of 73 women who had taken a full course of progesterone, ’38 of them have managed to hold on to their babies, a success rate of almost 50 per cent’. He says that compares to 25 per cent of women who followed standard NHS advice to just avoid the second pill.
The NHS puts the figure at eight to 40 per cent but says it can be no more precise than that.
Dr Kearney declined to comment ahead of the full hearing. However, supporters say he has a strong case. While progesterone is not specifically licensed to stop abortions, many medicines are used ‘off-label’, so it is not necessarily a sign of bad practice.
They say before starting the service, Dr Kearney sought advice from NHS England, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the GMC. None backed the treatment – but none said he would be breaking rules either.
Views about whether the treatment works are highly polarised, with ‘pro-choicers’ arguing that those who offer the service are ideologically motivated and cherry-pick their results to give a false impression of success rates. They also say it can harm women.
Meanwhile, ‘pro-lifers’ argue the evidence is there, and say harmful side effects are caused by mifepristone, not the treatment.
Only one ‘gold standard’ randomised controlled trial of progesterone after mifepristone has been attempted but its findings were inconclusive.
It was abandoned last year over safety concerns, when three of the 12 volunteers experienced severe haemorrhages, although of those, only one was given progesterone, while the other two had a placebo.
US researchers warned: ‘Patients in early pregnancy who use only mifepristone may be at high risk of significant haemorrhage.’
Last month, Dr Kearney said vaginal bleeding was a known side effect of mifepristone – but the obstetrician who ran the US trial said the type of haemorrhage the three women experienced was different.
Dr Jonathan Lord, of MSI, said they had heard reports of women who ‘felt exploited’ after contacting ‘so-called abortion reversal services’, adding: ‘There is no evidence this treatment works and there is some evidence it may even be harmful.’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ‘Babies are alive today because mothers reached out to Dr Kearney and he provided effective and safe abortion rescue.
‘This ruling punishes the life saver, is deeply wrong and needs to be overturned.’
‘His compassion saved me from a lifetime of guilt – I’m so grateful’
Five-week-old Charlie is perfect in every way. His cheeks are round and his dark eyes wide as he is cradled in his devoted mother’s arms.
Laura, who is in her 30s, dissolves into tears as she tells The Mail on Sunday how Charlie very nearly wasn’t born at all – after an agonising decision she made last year to take an abortion pill, which came through the post, when she was ten weeks pregnant.
Laura, whose real name we are withholding at her request, felt she had little choice: she had a toddler daughter to look after, and was struggling to juggle her demanding job with childcare during the pandemic. Her relationship with her partner, also the father of her daughter, was uncertain.
Laura, who is in her 30s, had an agonising decision last year to take an abortion pill, which came through the post, when she was ten weeks pregnant
Yet the instant she swallowed the first pill, she was flooded with regret, collapsing to the kitchen floor and clawing desperately at her throat until it bled in a bid to make herself sick. It’s a horrendous image, and one Laura struggles to relive.
Charlie is only here, she says, because Dr Dermot Kearney provided her with an unlicensed antidote to the abortion pill – a decision that could see him struck off.
Laura will be a witness in support of Dr Kearney. She cannot imagine where she would be today were it not for his ‘compassionate, non-judgmental’ support, she says. ‘I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself. I’m not judging any woman who chooses to have an abortion, but I’d have been racked with guilt. The idea that another woman could go through this and not get help is impossible to imagine.’
Laura knew when she became pregnant last July that she wanted to keep the child. Her partner, however, was not convinced, as officially they had separated. ‘I was torn, confused,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to bring a child into the world if I didn’t know what the future held.’
Following a telephone consultation, Laura, then a few weeks pregnant, was sent by post pills to induce a medical abortion. She agonised over the decision, but took the first pill at ten weeks, the last possible moment they can be taken at home.
‘I suddenly realised what I was losing. I felt empty. Everything I’d allowed myself to imagine about the baby had gone. I collapsed to the floor.’
Within minutes, Laura was searching online for options to reverse the pill, and found a US pro-life helpline. The American doctor who answered promised to find her someone who could help. Within half an hour, Dr Kearney called.
‘I was crying so much I don’t remember much about what he said,’ she recalls. ‘But he was great, so supportive, and didn’t mention religion. He just told me what the process was, and that there was a good chance it was going to work because it hadn’t been long since I’d taken the first abortion pill.’
Dr Kearney sent a prescription to a local pharmacy. He encouraged Laura to register her pregnancy with her GP and advised her to have private scans, which he offered to pay for. ‘I felt so supported,’ Laura says. ‘I totally blocked out what I’d done and focused on the baby wriggling inside me.’
Giving birth to Charlie in April was ‘so emotional’, she admits. ‘Dr Kearney was one of the first people I told. I’m so grateful. And my partner and I are together – this process helped us decide that.’
‘He was so kind and patient and gave my baby a second chance’
Rachel as 11 weeks pregnant as she sat sobbing in the waiting room of an abortion clinic.
The decision to get rid of her unborn child had been emotionally fraught and weighed heavily on her mind. But she felt she had little choice as her partner lived hundreds of miles away with his children from a previous marriage.
If she expected a little compassion and sympathy at the NHS-led centre, she got none. ‘I cried throughout the scan to date my pregnancy,’ Rachel recalls. ‘No one asked me if I was OK. The doctor was frustrated and angry, and kept saying, ‘Well, are you going to take the pills or not?’ They were robotic.’
The decision to get rid of her unborn child had been emotionally fraught and weighed heavily on Rachel’s mind
Nobody suggested saleswoman Rachel, who is in her 30s with a young daughter from a previous ten-year marriage, might benefit from counselling. And, feeling under pressure, she agreed to take the first abortion pill – but instantly regretted it. ‘I cried all the way home,’ she recalls.
What followed was emotional torture. ‘In my head I was saying sorry to the baby,’ she admits tearfully. ‘It was trying to live and I was killing it. All I’d been thinking about was myself, and that it would be too hard for me. Suddenly that seemed completely wrong.’
Searching the internet for options to reverse the pill, she only found a US pro-life helpline, which put her in touch with Dr Kearney. ‘He was so kind and patient, and answered all of our questions over several phone calls that afternoon.
‘He explained bleeding was a possible side effect, and that the baby may not survive as I’d taken the pill. The progesterone was most likely to be effective within 24 hours. I was prepared to take on some risk if it meant saving my child.’
Rachel signed a consent form Dr Kearney emailed over, and he sent a prescription to her local pharmacy. To her and her partner’s surprise, he also offered to pay for the private prescription and for a private scan to check for a heartbeat.
They declined, but Rachel says: ‘We both thought how wonderful it was that there were kind people like him in the world. He said nothing about religion – I had no idea there was a religious connection.’
And over the next few days Dr Kearney was in touch ‘all the time’ to check on her progress. They kept him informed of midwife appointments and NHS scans.
‘I’m so happy I met him,’ she says. ‘I went through the worst 24 hours of my life but everything worked out for me. I believe women need to have this chance.’
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