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Home abortion has doubled number of complications, Swedish study suggests

27 September 2018

A campaign group is calling for an urgent review of the Government’s decision to allow home abortions after a new academic study has suggested that the practice may have significantly increased the number of complications women experience.

The study, published in BMC Women’s Health, concludes: “The rate of complications associated with medical abortions < 12 weeks has increased from 4.2% in 2008 to 8.2% in 2015. The cause of this is unknown but it may be associated with a shift from hospital to home medical abortions.”

The Westminster Government last month announced it plans to follow the Scottish and Welsh governments in approving the medical abortion pill for home use.

But such plans could be putting the health of more women at risk.

Researchers Isabelle Carlsson, Karin Breding and P.-G. Larsson analysed all the women who underwent induced surgical abortion at Skaraborg Hospital in Sweden between 2008 and 2015 – a total of 4945 abortions.

For most women, medical abortion at home was the recommended procedure. By 2015, 85.2% of all medical abortions before the 9th gestational week were carried out at home – an increase of over 10% from 2008-9, when the number was 74.6%.

In the same time frame, the complication rate for medical abortions before 12 weeks has increased from 4.2% to 8.2%.

The researchers suggest several times that the increase in abortions at home may be to blame. “There was a significant increase in the share of complications related to medical abortions < 12 weeks (RR 1.49, 95% 1.04–2.15). One potential reason is that the proportion of induced abortions performed at home has risen. It is likely that women who have medical abortions at home will visit our outpatient clinic in a greater extent since they do not have the direct help and support from a midwife.”

Complications include incomplete abortions, bleeding and infections. The most common complication (57%) related to medical abortions < 12 weeks was incomplete abortions, which occurred 153 times, comprising 4.1% of all medical abortions.

The study also confirmed that abortion pills cause considerably more complications than the surgical procedure. In 2015, the total figure for complications following medical abortion was 8.2%, compared with 3.6% for surgical abortion. In the 2017 UK abortion statistics, there were 221 complications per thousand procedures for medical abortions, versus 79 for surgical abortions.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is currently appealing a decision by a judge at the Edinburgh Court of Session to back the Scottish Government’s home abortion policy.

Deputy Chief Executive John Deighan said: “This study appears to back what we have been saying all along – that home abortions are risky for women. Sweden is known to have very good data on abortion, and the conclusions of a large scale study like this, where home abortion has been the norm for more than a decade, are not to be taken lightly.

“We call on the Government to urgently review their decision to allow home abortion in light of this new evidence.

“This cavalier attitude towards abortion cannot be allowed to continue,” he went on. “Medical abortion in particular puts women through an appalling physical and mental ordeal, and we know from a sister organisation working with post-abortive women that going through this in their own home increases the likelihood of traumatic flashbacks.

“We are still of the view that abortion at home is not lawful and the evidence shows the threat it poses to women’s health. This latest research suggests that women taking the abortion pill at home cannot be ruled out as a factor leading to a significant increase in complications in a country where it has been extensively tried.”

 

Notes to editors:

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