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.
THE FACTS: 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. With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could overturn the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade expected soon, a post containing false claims that medication abortions are dangerous has circulated widely online.
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, told the AP. “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.”
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.