Over the past few years, U.S. states have been considering or even passing bills designed to outlaw abortion. A recent one, in Ohio, includes a provision that seems to require doctors to “reimplant” an ectopic pregnancy, a procedure that does not exist in medicine. So what is an ectopic pregnancy and why is “reimplanting” impossible? Let’s take a look.
What’s an ectopic pregnancy?
Normally, after an egg cell is fertilised, it begins developing and, within a few days, implants in the wall of the uterus. (This is how it gets its blood supply so it can continue developing.)
The embryo grows as it develops, and the uterus expands along with it. But sometimes a pregnancy can implant in the fallopian tube, which is not an organ that can expand as the embryo grows. (Ectopic pregnancies can occur in other places , but the fallopian tube is by far the most common.) If the embryo stays there, the fallopian tube can rupture, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. Since the fallopian tube is about the size of a strand of spaghetti, the rupture can happen fairly early in the pregnancy. You might not even know that you’re pregnant.
Ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous and often deadly condition if it’s not treated, and a fallopian tube rupture is a medical emergency.
How are ectopic pregnancies normally treated?
If the fallopian tube ruptures, emergency surgery is necessary to stop bleeding and save the person’s life. If that hasn’t happened yet, but you and your doctors figure out that you have an ectopic pregnancy, it needs to be removed.
According to a WA and Victorian health authorities in Australia, non-serious issues might be treated with medication whereas more serious instances will require surgery. This medication is usually methotrexate, which stops cells from dividing. (For this reason, it’s also sometimes used as chemotherapy for cancer.) If all goes well, the embryo stops dividing and is absorbed by the body.
If the medication doesn’t work, or if it can’t be used (methotrexate has a lot of side effects and is not safe for people with certain medical conditions), the next option is surgery. A surgeon can either attempt to remove the embryo from the fallopian tube, or can remove the fallopian tube entirely.
What happens to the embryo?
Sorry, but I have bad news. This is the end of the pregnancy.
There is no way to leave the embryo in the fallopian tube and let it develop normally; the tube simply can’t support it. (There are a few case reports of pregnancies that implanted in the abdominal cavity and continued to develop, but this is medical miracle levels of rare.)
So once your doctor realises you have an ectopic pregnancy, it must be removed. And once it’s removed, there’s no place to put it. There simply isn’t a procedure to “reimplant” an ectopic pregnancy in the uterus, as medical professionals have had to patiently explain to reporters in the wake of this US' Ohio bill. It just doesn’t exist. Once the embryo is removed, that’s it, the pregnancy is done.
The new Ohio HB413, p.184: To avoid criminal charges, including murder, for abortion, a physician must “…[attempt to] reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the women’s uterus”
— David N Hackney MD, FACOG (@DavidNHackney) November 19, 2019
This means that somebody who is diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy is in a similar position as somebody who has suffered a miscarriage. It’s devastating if the pregnancy was wanted. And it’s cruel for anti-abortion activists to hold out an imaginary medical procedure as a false hope.