An analysis by the Reuters news service of data from Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities as well as state health records indicates that the abortion pill is almost as common a way to end a pregnancy in the United States as surgical abortion. The shift has occurred as federal restrictions on the abortion drug have been eased or lifted and numerous states have imposed greater regulations on surgical abortion.
Chemical abortions involve two drugs: mifepristone blocks progesterone, a pregnancy-sustaining hormone, and misoprostol, which induces contractions. Abortion advocates claim chemical abortions are preferable to the surgical procedure because pregnancies can be terminated in the comfort and privacy of a woman’s home.
Reuters reports that according to Planned Parenthood, 43 per cent of abortions carried out by the organization in 2014 were chemical abortions; in 2010, they comprised 35 per cent of all abortions.
The Food and Drug Administration approved RU-486 in 2000, but placed numerous regulations on dispensing the abortifacient drug. Earlier this year, the FDA lifted some of those regulations including expanding eligibility from seven to 10 weeks gestation, reducing the required number of doctor visits from three to two, and permitting nurse practitioners to prescribe the abortion drug. After these changes, Reuters reports, “demand for medication abortions” — the abortion drug — “tripled in the last several months” in some parts of the country. In Michigan, chemical abortions account for 55 per cent of all abortions, and in Iowa 64 per cent.
Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition and vice president of the International Right to Life Federation, told The Interim that he has heard from European colleagues that chemical abortions comprise the vast majority of abortions in many countries, including Scotland where they account for 80 per cent of all abortions, and Finland where they comprise 91 per cent of abortions. A decade ago, chemical abortions accounted for about half of abortions in these countries.
Planned Parenthood says it charges between $300 and $1000 for both chemical and surgical abortions based on the patient’s ability to pay. Randall O’Bannon, director of education and research at the National Right to Life Committee, said that because overhead for surgical abortions is greater, Planned Parenthood makes a greater profit from chemical abortions.
He also said that the abortion drug is “much more dangerous and difficult than advertised, that they take several days to work, that they are extremely bloody and painful, and that they are still abortions, taking the lives of unborn children.”
During U.S. clinical trials in the 1990s, there was an eight per cent failure rate at seven weeks and 23 per cent failure rate at eight and ten weeks. That means a surgical abortion is required to complete the procedure. A woman died of complications during the clinical trials in Canada in 2001. Health Canada approved the abortion drug in 2014 and it became available last month. Hughes said he expects Canada to follow the American and European trend of chemical abortions becoming as common, or more so, than the surgical procedure.
The increase in chemical abortions comes at a time when total abortions have decreased moderately. Since the FDA approved RU-486 in 2000, the number of “induced abortions” have decreased from 857,475 abortions to just under 700,000 in 2012 according to the Centers for Disease Control, and declined from 1,312,990 to 1,058,490 according to the Guttmacher Institute, the research wing of Planned Parenthood; the latter number includes chemical abortions.
The National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life both warn that easing restrictions means more dead babies and more complications for women. AUL’s Anna Paprocki told Christian Headlines chemical abortions are “a way to expand their business” and O’Bannon said they are “still abortion, still violent, still painful, and offers (women) and their children no more hope and no less suffering than the old surgical method.”
NRLC reports that only about half of Planned Parenthood facilities (361 out of about 649) provide surgical abortions, but concludes with the FDA relaxing rules around the drug, it is “a substantial growth area for the industry.”
Two other developments could lead to an increase in chemical abortions. In rural parts of Iowa and Maine, for example, abortionists can serve patients on teleconference without seeing women in person. While surgical abortion is difficult to procure in remote locations, the abortion pill might not.
Furthermore, Gynuity Health Projects, a private reproductive health firm, distributes the abortion drug by mail.