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Study links chemical abortions with ER visits

Research highlights medical risks of abortion pill as FDA considers scrapping safety requirements

A nurse practioner confers via teleconference with patients seeking at-home abortions using the drug combo mifepristone and misoprostol, seen in a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights, Ill., on Oct. 29. Associated Press/Photo by Jeff Roberson

Study links chemical abortions with ER visits

Women in the United States who undergo a drug-induced abortion are more likely to end up in the emergency room than women who get surgical abortions, according to a new peer-reviewed study from researchers at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. The study draws attention to the risks that chemical abortions pose to women and the shortcomings of reporting requirements for abortion pill distributors. The findings also come at a time when the abortion industry is pressing to make it easier for women to access abortion drugs.

On Dec. 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to wrap up a monthslong review of safety requirements for the abortion pill. Under the Biden administration and pressure from pro-abortion groups, the FDA could permanently remove the in-person requirements that ensured women would be screened before taking the pills. Since mid-2020, those safety precautions have only been in place intermittently due to exceptions made during the pandemic. Without them, women have been able to order the pills online and receive them by mail without any medical oversight.

“Given what we’ve determined looks like a really serious issue, we think … that de-medicalization ought to terrify women,” said Dr. James Studnicki, the lead researcher in the Charlotte Lozier Institute study. “[Pro-abortion groups] believe it’s empowering for women, and actually, we think it raises tremendous danger, tremendous risk.”

The study, which analyzed Medicaid data from 1999 to 2015 in 17 states where taxpayer dollars paid for abortions, tracked the emergency room visits made by women within 30 days of their chemical or surgical abortions. The authors ascertained which ER trips were specifically abortion-related. (Many of those were incorrectly coded as resulting from miscarriages, likely due to women not revealing their abortions to ER doctors.)

Even with the in-person dispensing requirements, the rate of Medicaid patients ending up in the ER within 30 days of a chemical abortion increased 507 percent from 2002 to 2015, much higher than the increase for surgical abortions. Compared with surgical abortions, the risk of a chemical abortion patient needing to go to the ER for specifically abortion-related reasons was 53 percent higher.

Studnicki said the Medicaid reports do indicate the specific reasons for the ER visits and some information that could indicate the outcomes of those visits, such as hospitalization. But he and the other researchers did not dig into that data for the purposes of this study, although they hope to in the future.

Meanwhile, the federal government continues to gloss over health concerns related to the abortion pill. As the introduction of Studnicki’s study points out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require states to report abortion numbers. That leaves the total number of unborn deaths in the country largely unknown.

Pro-life doctors are also skeptical of the FDA’s reporting on adverse events related to the abortion pill. When the latest FDA data came out in 2019, the agency reported a total of 4,195 adverse events between 2000 and 2018, but pharmaceutical experts have estimated that the voluntary reporting rate for drug complications in the United States is less than 10 percent. (Dr. Donna Harrison of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists told WORLD at the time it’s possible the FDA’s figures represent fewer than 5 percent of the actual complications from the abortion drug mifepristone.)

On top of that, the FDA since 2016 has only required abortion facilities to report deaths following chemical abortions, allowing other serious and even near-death outcomes to fly under the radar.

“In the United States, we have what I would call shamefully inadequate data collection,” said Studnicki. He considers the results of this study to be one reason why government health agencies should step up oversight. “If they’re really interested in women of childbearing age and if they’re really interested in pregnancy outcomes, when you look at the pattern of emergency room visits during this 17-year period, it should be a red flag warning.”

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for WORLD News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.


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