Women who sourced abortion pills online ended their pregnancy without surgical intervention

Women who ordered abortion pills from an online service against a backdrop of strict anti-abortion laws reported successfully terminating their pregnancy with few adverse events, new research has found.

The results of an analysis of 1,000 women in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who used the Women on Web (WoW) telemedicine service between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2012, found 95% reported ending their pregnancy without surgical intervention.

While repeal of legal restrictions “would support the safest and most equitable abortion care” for women on the island of Ireland, medical abortion via telemedicine provided a “reasonable alternative”.

That’s according to an editorial in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) responding to the findings of Self-Reported Outcomes and Adverse Events Following Medical Abortion via Online Telemedicine: A Population-based Study in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Irish and Northern Irish people who access or help others to access this pathway are choosing an option that has similar effectiveness rates to medication abortion performed in a clinic and has lower rates of complications than continuing a pregnancy to delivery,” said lead author Abigail Aiken, assistant professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Women availing of the WoW service were less than 10 weeks pregnant and got abortion medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, by post. 

Almost a third (n=306) were aged 30-34, 236 were 35-39, and 195 were 25-29, 79 were aged £24, and 184 were ³40. 

Virtually all (997) reported being able to cope with their decision to have an abortion. 

Seven reported getting a blood transfusion, and 26 reported receiving antibiotics. No deaths resulting from the intervention were reported. 

Ninety-three women reported experiencing any symptom for which they were advised to seek medical advice, and, of these, 87 sought attention.

The study’s authors concluded that self-sourced medical abortion using online telemedicine “can be highly effective, and outcomes compare favourably with in clinic protocols”. 

They said the results “have important implications for women worldwide living in areas where access to abortion is restricted”.

The Abortion Rights Campaign said the research showed women in Ireland and Northern Ireland “are using safe but illegal pills to access the abortions they want but are denied” by legislators. 

Spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said despite the safety of the pills, women still needed access to professional health care and advice when taking them.

“As it stands, women are relying on the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s helpline established for women in Ireland and Northern Ireland for information on the procedure,” she said.

“Women are afraid to access post-abortion care, or to seek assistance during their abortions because of the very real threat of a 14-year prison sentence.” 

It was “not good enough that women on the island of Ireland get their abortion pills from the internet”, she said.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign said: “The main author of the survey is a well-known campaigner for wide-ranging abortion. That should be noted in any discussion of the survey.”


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