Within hours of each other on Tuesday, four anti-abortion news websites posted information on a recently-released Australian report claiming that medical abortions are “less safe than surgery.” Previous research conducted in the U.S. contradicts the survey’s findings.
Medical abortions are administered through a pill called RU 486, or Mifepristone. RU 486 induces a miscarriage and is generally used within the first trimester of pregnancy.
The Australian reported that the “audit” of nearly 7,000 abortions “found that 3.3 percent of women who used mifepristone in the first trimester of pregnancy – when most elective terminations occur – later turned up at hospital emergency departments, against 2.2 percent who had undergone surgery.”
Only four years ago, a US/Denmark study showed that medical abortions are “no riskier to future pregnancies than surgical abortions.”
That study, which was featured in the August 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the drug, “at least in the long term, is safe.”
Time Magazine reported that the study “contradicts an earlier study, of women in the Auvergne region of France, published in 2003 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found an association between medical abortion and a nearly threefold greater risk of ectopic pregnancy — a condition that accounts for about 9% of all pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.”
When asked about the disparity in the two reports, one researcher pointed to the “small sample size and self-reported data in the earlier study,” while the current study had “large cohort and national-registry information.” According to Time, “the focus of the previous study was not abortion per se, but general risk factors for ectopic pregnancy, including women’s history of smoking and pelvic infectious disease.”
Medical abortions are a contentious topic in the U.S. Since RU 486 first arrived in the United States, anti-abortion activists have campaigned against the drug’s approval and began petitioning the government to disallow the use of the drug once it became more widespread.
Recently, Texas and Oklahoma took up legislation that would limit the drug’s use and place restrictions on when the pill could be administered.