Over the past decade, abortion advocates have attempted to propagate the idea that medication abortions are safer, easier, and less troublesome than surgical abortion. They claim that the abortion pill is a safe method to end a pregnancy, and many stop just short of encouraging it. The truth, of course, just isn’t that simple.
In the recently published book Unplanned, former Planned Parenthood health center director Abby Johnson wrote candidly about her own experience with the abortion drug mifepristone. After taking the abortion pill at a Planned Parenthood clinic, she was given an antibiotic, an anti-nausea medication, and a few pills to take within the next two days that would complete the abortion. For Abby, nothing happened as expected. After two days and having taken the full abortion medication regimen, she found herself in “agony… too ill to get out of bed, ran a fever, and bled heavily.” It took Abby two weeks to recover enough to return to work, and it was eight weeks before she had the strength to return to a normal schedule.
Knowledge of mifepristone’s potential side effects goes well beyond personal accounts or anecdotes. Dr. Alan Sawyer, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with over 20 years of experience in women’s health, offered a much clearer picture of the true risks to medication abortion. In a February 2011 letter to state legislators in support of HB 2416, Dr. Sawyer wrote that medical abortions have a different and defined set of risks completely independent of those associated with surgical abortions.
After taking abortion pills, women face the potential for more severe hemorrhaging than surgical abortions, an increased risk for subsequent ectopic pregnancies, and potential for toxic shock syndrome brought on by a lethal strain of bacteria. The FDA’s statements about the mifepristone-induced shock indicate that the onset of the infection is not typical of toxic shock syndrome. They say that the risk of this deadly side effect can be mitigated when physicians and patients are informed of how this complication arises and are able to act quickly. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to come to the conclusion that close watch and follow up with a doctor is in the woman’s best interest.
Two weeks ago, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit to prevent the provisions relating to medication abortion in the recently-passed HB 2416 from taking effect. In spite of the unique risks associated with medication abortions, Planned Parenthood insists that mifepristone is safe and that adopting any extra precautions would “medically inappropriate.” While a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge has temporarily delayed the enforcement of the new law, an August 22 hearing will determine whether it goes into effect or faces further litigation.
At this juncture, what would truly be medically inappropriate is to ignore the unique risks of medication abortion and then turn around and deny women access to a doctor trained in how to look for and handle its side effects. Offering women the facilities, personnel, and medical supplies to deal with known and serious side effects isn’t inappropriate- it’s basic medical safety. HB 2416 is a more than reasonable effort to ensure common sense medical standards are followed in all of Arizona’s abortion clinics.