Research shows medication abortions are safe
CLAIM: Medication abortions are dangerous, and result in high rates of infection and hemorrhage. Parts of the baby are also left in the womb following the procedure.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Research shows that medication abortions, which involve taking pills to end a pregnancy, are safe and effective, experts say. Complications after abortions using pills, such as infection, are rare.
THE FACTS: With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could overturn landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade expected soon, a post containing false claims that medication abortions are dangerous has circulated widely online.
“Medication abortions are dangerous. They have a high rate of infection and hemorrhage,” one Facebook user wrote on Saturday. “In many instances, these women will have parts of their baby still left in their wombs, but they won’t have any idea because they aren’t under the care of a clinic or physician.”
But research shows that medication abortions are highly safe and effective, according to experts. The procedure, which typically occurs prior to 11 weeks, involves taking two medications, called mifepristone and misoprostol, in pill-form to end a pregnancy.
“They are incredibly safe,” Emily Godfrey, an associate professor of family medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told The Associated Press. “Less than 1% of people who have sought a medication abortion have had complications.”
Alison Edelman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, pointed to a 2018 report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that found “complications after medication abortion, such as hemorrhage, hospitalization, persistent pain, infection, or prolonged heavy bleeding, are rare—occurring in no more than a fraction of a percent of patients.”
The same report cited research finding that medication abortions have an “overall effectiveness rate of 96.7 percent for gestations up to 63 days (9 weeks).”
“Medication abortion is incredibly safe in terms of all of those things,” Edelman said. “The risk of infection is less than 1%, harm to internal organs is almost nonexistent, and bleeding risk is less than 1% as well.”
Some bleeding does occur as a result of medication abortion, which involves administering misoprostol to induce uterine contractions to expel the pregnancy from the uterus. However, the resulting bleeding is typically not serious.
“It’s unusual to have bleeding to the point of needing an emergency intervention,” Edelman said.
While tissue can remain in a patient’s uterus following a medication abortion, experts said, the procedure does not result in identifiable parts of a baby being left in the womb.
“Before nine weeks, really what you’re seeing is a gestational sac,” Edelman said. “To have like an actual part of a baby left, would be, would be almost unheard of for a medical abortion process.”
She added that a fetus at nine weeks is around a centimeter in size and a fetus at 11 weeks is “probably a centimeter and a half to two centimeters.”
Godfrey said that prior to eight weeks, when many patients are seeking abortions, the pregnancy consists of an embryo, not a fetus.
“There is no baby there. The embryo is the size of a piece of rice. There is nothing to be left behind,” she said. “Arms don’t really develop until nine weeks of pregnancy. Again, they are millimeters in length.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.