Medical abortions done at home with online help and pills sent in the mail appear to be just as safe as those done at a clinic, according to a new study.
The research tracked the outcomes of 1,000 women in Ireland and Northern Ireland, who used a website run by a group called Women on Web to get abortion pills. The Netherlands-based nonprofit provides advice and pills to women seeking an early abortion in more than 140 countries where access to abortion is restricted. Ireland and Northern Ireland have some of the world's strictest laws, often only granting approval when a woman's life is at risk.
To use the service, women complete an online form, which is reviewed by a doctor. They are sent two drugs in the mail — mifepristone and misoprostol — and given instructions on how to take the pills, which have been used since 1988 to induce early abortions. They are later asked to fill out an evaluation form.
About 95 percent of the women in the study reported successfully ending their pregnancy; nearly all were less than nine weeks pregnant at the time of the online consultation. The researchers said less than 10 percent reported symptoms of a potentially serious complication like very heavy bleeding, fever or persistent pain, comparable to the rates for women who seek medical abortions at clinics where abortion is legal. Seven women needed a blood transfusion and 26 received antibiotics. No deaths were reported.
Follow-up information was missing for about one-third of the 1,636 women who were sent pills over three years, so some complications may have been missed.