Health

Digital abortions bring hope

By Kitty Knowles 16 May 2017
Protesters during a Strike 4 Repeal campaign, Dublin. Pic: Getty/Artur Widak/NurPhoto
Summary

Online services are helping women when no one else will.

Why do women have abortions?

To try to reduce the horrors of rape. To avoid devastating health risks. To decide the life they want to lead, because their body is their own.

But today millions of women do not have these basic freedoms. About a quarter of the world’s population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, leading many to take dangerous action into their own hands.

47,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year.

Now, online services are helping to change that.

Online abortions

Digital abortion services are a promising alternative for women living in countries where safe abortion is restricted or illegal, a new study in The BMJ has found.

Of 1,000 women surveyed across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, 95% were able to successfully able to end their pregnancy after attending an online clinic to receive the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol.

Reassuringly, women were also able to identify adverse effects and seek help where needed: Seven women (0.7%) reported receiving a blood transfusion and 26 (2.6%) reported receiving antibiotics. 93 women (9.3%) reported experiencing any symptom for which they were advised to seek medical attention and, of these 87 sought attention.

There were no deaths reported.

“The findings show the vital role played by self-sourced medical abortion in providing an option with high effectiveness rates and few reported adverse outcomes,” write the research team led by Abigail Aiken of the University of Texas at Austin.

The bigger picture

While the scientists want to give hope to women around the world, they also believe the study backs calls for greater change.

Researchers in Canada add that the “reassuring study data supports growing calls for reform”. Only the repeal of legal restrictions will bring truly safe abortion care to women in countries like Ireland.

“Until then, for the first time in history, women of all social classes in a legally restricted yet high resource setting have equitable access to a reasonable alternative: medical abortion guided by physicians through telemedicine,” they conclude.

Watch this space.