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Complications rates 160 times higher for medical abortions at 20 weeks and after compared to before 10 weeks, according to Gov. review

by | Dec 20, 2023

By Right to Life UK

Government review has revealed that abortion complication rates for medical abortions at 20 weeks and over are 160 times higher than complication rates for medical abortions at 2 to 9 weeks gestation and that complication rates for DIY abortions are likely underreported.

Using data from abortion providers upon which the annual abortion statistics for England and Wales are based, the review compared the abortion complication rate for medical abortions in England in 2021 by the gestational age of the unborn baby.

The data showed that as the gestation of the unborn baby increases so does the complication rate for medical abortions. Specifically, the data revealed that the complication rate for medical abortions taking place at 10 to 12 weeks compared to 2 to 9 weeks is 18.33 times higher. This complication rate increased to 110 times higher for abortions at 13 to 19 weeks and 160.33 times higher for abortions at 20 weeks and over when compared to medical abortions that occurred at 2 to 9 weeks.

Complications after 20 weeks are 160 times higher

However, the data from 10 weeks or more is for medical abortions that took place in a clinical setting, since medical abortion outside of this setting is not legal after 10 weeks. The complication rate for women who perform their own medical abortion outside of a clinical setting at 10 weeks or beyond in a DIY home abortion, is likely to be far higher than the rates when women are receiving in-person medical supervision.

The review also identified that abortion providers were not recording complications that happened after discharge or after the form on which they were recorded was sent to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Abortion providers are required to submit a HSA4 form which contains any complications that occurred as a result of an abortion but only up to the point of discharge. However, in 2022, the year  the review was undertaken, the OHID noted that there was “no evidence” that abortion providers were informing the DHSC to ensure the data was updated when a woman informed the abortion provider about a complication that occurred after the form had been sent. 

According to the review, the most common abortion complications reported in the relevant data for 2021 were hemorrhage (65.8%), sepsis (11.4%) and cervical tear (11.1%).

No in-person consultation

During a DIY home abortion, there is no in-person consultation. This means that a pregnant woman could be unsure about when she became pregnant and therefore mistaken about the gestational age of her baby.

Alternatively, a pregnant woman could lie to an abortion provider about the gestation of her baby as happened when the British Pregnancy Advisory Service sent out abortion pills to a woman whose baby, Lily, was at least 32 weeks gestation.

It is likely this case would not have happened had the gestation of the baby been accurately identified by ultrasound or a physical examination during an in-person appointment.

FOI requests indicate true extent of complications

Data from a number of Freedom of Information [FOI] requests provide an indication of the likely true extent of complications arising from DIY abortions.

A series of FOI requests in 2021 suggested that more than 10,000 women had to receive hospital treatment following the use of medical abortion pills in England between April 2020 and September 2021.

Based on data collected from 85 FOI requests to NHS Trusts across England, the data suggests that more than 1 in 17 women who had a medical abortion over the 18-month period needed hospital treatment.

An increase in ambulance call-outs

Last year, following a FOI request to ambulance trusts in England, GB News found there had been a substantial increase in the number of women calling 999 in relation to abortion pills taken at home and an increase in ambulance dispatches.

They found that the number of call-outs relating to abortion increased in London from 93 in 2019 to 150 in 2020, a 61% increase; and in the South West, from 33 in 2019 to 74 in 2020, a 124% increase.

The ambulance trusts which responded to the FOI from GB News “show significant increases in the number of 999 calls from people concerned after taking abortion pills”.

According to GB News, South East Coast Ambulance Service saw a 34% increase in 999 calls “from people concerned after taking abortion pills” from 2019 to 2020.

The abortion provisions that allowed abortion pills to be taken outside of a clinical setting were introduced at the end of March 2020 as a temporary measure as part of the Government’s response to COVID-19. While this was intended to be a temporary measure, the Westminster Parliament made ‘DIY’ home abortion a permanent feature of the law in March 2022.

The parliament in Wales had already made ‘DIY’ home abortion permanent in February 2022 and Holyrood followed suit in May of the same year.

Since ‘DIY’ abortions were introduced in 2020, the abortion numbers have continued to increase each year. Over the first six months of 2022, there were almost 18,000 more abortions compared with the same time period over the previous year.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said:

“The data gathering methods for abortion complications are seriously deficient and very likely lead to dramatic underreporting of the true extent of the danger that DIY abortions pose to women.

“Even taking into account the poor data gathering, the complication rate for abortions at 20 weeks and over compared with abortions from 2 to 9 weeks is shocking. There is an urgent need to reinstate in-person appointments before abortions take place to ensure that the gestation of babies can accurately be assessed.

“With the launch of Baroness Eaton’s At Home Early Medical Abortion (Review) Bill, which would require the Government to conduct a review into the risks associated with at-home medical abortions, where a woman self-administers a medical abortion outside of a clinical setting, hopefully the shocking and underreported complication rate will come to greater light”.