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Study Looks at Online Abortion Pill Safety

Online abortion pill safety can affect women’s lives.

Abortion pills sold online are not typically fake, and are as safe as those women receive with a valid medical prescription, according to a study published in the journal Contraception. Some women who cannot afford to go to the doctor, who cannot access abortion, or who are afraid to tell anyone they are pregnant turn to online pills. It’s a fact that points to the desperation of women seeking abortion. Yet this study suggests desperate women may have one less thing to fear.

Online Abortion Pill Safety: Abortion Pills Purchased Online May Be Safe, Effective 

For the study, researchers purchased abortion pills from 20 different websites. None of the sites required a prescription. The abortion pill is only legally available with a valid medical prescription. The team then had the pills tested by an independent laboratory. All of the mifepristone pills were within 8% of the advertised level. There was more variation in the misoprostol pills, but the pills were still potent enough to cause an abortion.

Because the pills were advertised, they were likely to be reasonably safe–at least for women who are eligible to use abortion pills. These pills are only FDA-approved for abortions up to 10 weeks. Women may need medical assistance following a medication abortion, however, and not all women can safely use a medication for abortion.

 

Abortion Without Instruction or Support

Though the pills were as advertised, none of them came with instructions for proper use. This leaves women seeking abortions to look for instructions elsewhere. Online abortion instructions aren’t always reliable. Some searches for abortion assistance may redirect to anti-choice websites filled with inaccurate information and scare tactics. The wrong dose of an otherwise safe pill can be dangerous. Likewise, women with certain medical conditions or very advanced pregnancies cannot safely use an abortion pill. Women who are desperate enough to illegally seek online abortion pills may be desperate enough to use those pills without researching their use. In some cases, women who know their pregnancy has progressed too far may opt for a medication abortion out of desperation.

While instructions on the proper use of the pill won’t prevent all improper uses, they can act as a barrier to dangerous use.

Telemedicine: A Potentially Viable Alternative

The fact that women are turning to illegal online abortions speaks to a larger problem. Abortion remains inaccessible or too expensive for many women. State regulations, scare tactics, and the fear of clinic protesters can all cause women to choose less safe options. The good news is that there may be a safe alternative to illegal medication abortions.

One recent study found that telemedicine abortions–which involve a medication abortion with the option of assistance from a medical provider–are safe. That didn’t stop anti-choicers from telling women otherwise. It’s just one more way of limiting women’s reproductive freedom–which is a strategy that’s repeatedly proven to endanger the lives of women and their children.

Is Abortion Safe? The Answer is a Resounding Yes.

In recent weeks, it’s been nearly impossible to escape media coverage of the news that medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s enough to leave anyone terrified–especially women seeking abortions, who are often subject to a litany of false claims about abortion safety. So is abortion safe? The answer is a resounding yes. In a cultural climate where medicine is increasingly harming people, abortion remains one of the safest medical procedures a woman can undergo. And in a country where maternal mortality is rising rather than shrinking, abortion may be the best option for avoiding the clear dangers associated with a problematic childbirth culture.

 

To learn more about the research, read ACOL’s Daily Kos piece on the topic here.