New study finds chemical abortion leads to higher rate of ER visits

November 19, 2021

The rate of abortion-related emergency room visits following chemical abortions increased over 500% from 2002 through 2015, according to a new study. During that 13-year period, chemical abortions increased from 4.4% to 34.1% of total abortions.

What are chemical abortions? 

The two broad methods for legal abortions in the U.S. are chemical and surgical. A chemical abortion (sometimes referred to as a medication abortion, medical abortion, or pharmaceutical abortion) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to miscarriage.

The method approved by the  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chemical abortions is a two-step process involving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) ends a pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain a pregnancy. Because this hormone is blocked, the uterine lining begins to shed, removing the child (in the embryonic state) that was attached. The second step, which occurs 24 to 48 hours later, requires taking misoprostol which causes the woman to expel the child and the uterine lining in a matter similar to a miscarriage.

Major risks revealed in study

The FDA is currently reviewing the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for mifepristone and is expected to issue their decision on Dec. 16. An in-person screening for dangerous pre-existing conditions was added as a safeguard, but the Biden administration put a temporary hold on that requirement as part of their COVID-19 public health response.

The latest study, which was conducted by pro-life scholars associated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), was recently published in the international peer-reviewed journal Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology. The researchers used Medicaid claims data to conduct an analysis of 423,000 confirmed abortions and 121,283 confirmed subsequent visits to an emergency room within 30 days of the abortion by women over 13 years of age, with at least one identifiable pregnancy between 1999 and 2015. The study population resides in the 17 states whose official policies used state taxpayer funds to pay for abortions.

The study also found that the rate of abortion-related ER visits is growing faster for chemical abortions than surgical abortions. While ER visits following a surgical abortion increased 315% from 2002-2015, such visits increased 507% for chemical abortions. Additionally, chemical abortion makes subsequent abortions more dangerous. Women who had a chemical abortion followed by a second abortion of any type within the next 12 months were more than twice as likely to wind up in the emergency room.

“Not telling the ER of a recent chemical abortion could lead to costly, painful, or even fatal mistakes,” says Dr. Donna Harrison, a board-certified OB/GYN and a co-author of the study. “For example, a woman who had a recent chemical abortion will still have a positive pregnancy test. If the ER doctor does not see a pregnancy within her uterus, the doctor might take the woman for a completely unnecessary emergency surgery to look for an ectopic pregnancy.”

This study adds to the already numerous and well-documented studies in peer-reviewed medical journals that have demonstrated chemical abortions pose significant medical risks for women. For instance, one study found ​​women receiving chemical abortions were admitted to hospitals at a rate of 5.7% following the abortion, as compared with 0.4% for patients undergoing surgical abortion. The Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (APLOG) has also warned that “the abortion pill poses a four-times higher risk of complication than surgical abortion in the first trimester.” 

“The safety of chemical abortion is greatly exaggerated,” says Dr. James Studnicki, CLI vice president of data analytics.” In fact, the increasing dominance of chemical abortion and its disproportionate contribution to emergency room morbidity is a serious public health threat, and the real-world data suggests the threat is growing.”

As Christians, we should read this report with sadness, grieving the vulnerable lives that are taken and the mothers who, for myriad reasons, make that choice. The ERLC will continue to work alongside churches to help create a future where abortion is illegal, unnecessary, and unthinkable, and where mothers can turn to Christians to find support and the hope of the gospel in the midst of unplanned pregnancies. And, as always, we will advocate tirelessly in the public square to protect the right to life for every person — from womb to tomb.