Study of Over 50,000 Abortion Patients Finds Low Complication Rate

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Study of Over 50,000 Abortion Patients Finds Low Complication Rate

Andrea Grimes

Researchers warned in the newly released study that the shuttering of abortion providers as a result of more stringent laws could put those who need abortion care in danger.

Researchers who studied more than 50,000 California Medicaid patients who obtained legal abortion care in the state concluded that “major complications” after legal abortion care are extremely rare, and that overall, legal abortion care has a “very low complication rate.”

The University of California at San Francisco study, published this week in Obstetrics & Gynecology, followed 54,911 abortions obtained by 50,273 patients enrolled in Medi-Cal in 2009 and 2010, and found that of those nearly 55,000 medication abortion and first- and second-trimester surgical abortion procedures, 126 required treatment for “major complications,” defined as “requiring hospital admission, surgery or blood transfusion.”

Nearly all of the abortion procedures included in the study—97 percent—were performed in an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office, with about 3 percent performed in hospitals. In total, less than 2 percent of all studied abortions resulted in complications within six weeks of the initial procedure, and researchers cautioned that in fact their estimated complication rate, calculated among low-income women, might be “somewhat overstated” when compared to “the total group of women seeking abortions around the country,” because wealthier patients who have private insurance coverage “may be healthier” overall.

A press release accompanying the study’s journal publication compared the safety of legal abortion care to that of colonoscopy, and called into question many conservative lawmakers’ claims that requiring legal abortion care be provided in ambulatory surgical centers, or requiring abortion-providing doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, would increase the safety the procedure.

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“Abortion is very safe as currently performed, which calls into question the need for additional regulations that purportedly aim to improve safety,” said Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, an assistant professor at UCSF’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program.

Legislators like those in Texas, which passed a multi-part omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, in 2013, have claimed that putting more stringent regulations on abortion providers would increase the “health and safety” of those who receive legal abortion care. Texas, which had more than 40 legal abortion providers before the passage of HB 2, now has a little more than a dozen legal abortion providers.

The UCSF researchers warned in the newly released study that the shuttering of abortion providers as a result of these more stringent laws could put those who need abortion care in danger, forcing them to travel longer distances to access legal abortion care or attempt illegal pregnancy terminations at home.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of “major complications.” It was 126, not 252. We regret the error.