Is The Abortion Pill Safe? A New Study Could Save Women With Little Access To Reproductive Health Care

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A recent study on reproductive health care might just change the way you look at the abortion pill. According to a new study, the abortion pill misoprostol — often taken with mifepristone — is a safe and effective method of terminating a pregnancy at home when women have access to guidance and information about it.

For women who live in countries where abortion laws are highly restrictive, this is good news. The study, which was published by the Ibis Reproductive Health research center this month, pointed to how a "harm-reduction model" used by a nonprofit clinic in Peru actually helped women access and conduct safe abortions in the privacy of their own homes. Here's a little tidbit: a harm reduction model is a type of treatment in which researchers try to reduce the harmful effects that comes with certain drug use. In this study's case, the drug was misoprostol.

This model provided telephone and in-person care for women with unintended pregnancies. That idea was to offer instructions on how to use misoprostol to terminate their pregnancy, but also guidance on how to take care of themselves after the abortion. The clinic began offering advice through the telephone in 2011, then from January 2012 to March 2013, the study says 500 Peruvian women sought the clinic's help with accessing misoprostol.

According to the study, researchers found that 89 percent of the women were able to conduct a safe and effective abortion with misoprostol. Only 8 percent reported medical problems like "hemorrhage without transfusion, infection, or severe pain."

For women in countries like Peru, where there are highly restrictive abortion laws, this could be a game changer. Researchers say educating women about the abortion pill and making sure they have options for post-abortion care can reduce the risks of unsafe and deadly abortions.

A similar but separate study conducted by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in May offered insight into how mailing misoprostol and mifepristone to women in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland ultimately helped women to safely and successfully terminate unwanted pregnancies. (In Peru, where mifepristone is not available, medical professionals recommended women to use misoprostol on its own. In the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, mifepristone was used alongside misoprostol due to its availability.)

Just like the previous study, the BMJ's method is also focused on providing helpful information to women on the phone. And just like Peru, the Republic of Ireland also has restrictions on allowing women to seek abortion care through its official health care system.

In this case, 1,000 women educated themselves on self-medicated abortion between January 2010 and December 2012. And the results were impressive. According to the study, 95 percent of the women reported successful and safe termination of their unwanted pregnancies. Less than 10 percent reported bleeding or pain.

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Both studies could have a profound impact on women's access to abortion services across the world, or at least help in educating people on how effective the abortion pill can be when women are educated about their usage and properly informed about post-abortion care.

It's a desperately needed measure, too. According to a combined study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, some 25 million unsafe abortions took place between 2010 and 2014. Furthermore, 97 percent of these unsafe and dangerous abortions happened in the developing world.

"When women and girls cannot access effective contraception and safe abortion services, there are serious consequences for their own health and that of their families," Bela Ganatra, the study's main researcher, said. "This should not happen. But despite recent advances in technology and evidence, too many unsafe abortions still occur, and too many women continue to suffer and die."