Online abortion options ‘safe and effective’, says study

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Nearly 95% of women who search for abortion drugs and advice online safely end their pregnancy, a study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Texas, alongside an international team, tracked the outcomes for 1,000 women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who accessed the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol online.

They found that almost 95% of those tracked successfully and safely ended their pregnancy without the need for surgical intervention. No fatalities were recorded, but 26 women needed antibiotics and 7 needed a blood transfusion.

The researchers say the study, published in the British Medical Journal, underscores the safety of medical abortion. They added that women who experience symptoms of possible complications should follow advice to seek medical help.

Ninety-three of those tracked developed symptoms for which they were advised to see a doctor, with 95% of these women subsequently going to a hospital or clinic.

Abigail Aiken, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, said: ‘This is abortion entirely outside the formal healthcare setting: it is an online telemedicine model, but this research shows that it can be both safe and highly effective.

‘When we talk about self-sought, self-induced abortions, people think about coat hangers or they think about tables in back alleys. But I think this research really shows that in 2017 self-sourced abortion is a network of people helping and supporting each other through what’s really a safe and effective process.’

Prof Aiken added that although it is positive for public health, access to these drugs is not a positive for women in countries where laws make them ‘feel like criminals’.

Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at the British Humanist Association, welcomed the study, but said that ‘covert’ online sources did nothing to remove the risk of prosecution for women accessing pills on the internet.

He said: ‘Hopefully this research will only reinforce the need to end the legal injustice that women, while perhaps being able to access safe abortion pills in practice, nonetheless can face prosecution for doing so.’