Abortion pill risks not being properly explained to women

Women are not being made fully aware of the risks that can be associated with abortion pills, a conference organised by Bios Centre in Britain has been told. Over the phone consultation adds more danger to their use. The same applies here in Ireland where 133 “adverse incidents” related to abortion have been reported by women to the State Claims Agency over the last five years, according to figures obtained by Peadar Toibin.

Abortion pills have become the most common method for terminating a pregnancy, particularly in the early stages of gestation.  In Ireland, women up to nine weeks pregnant usually take the abortion pills at home, following a consultation with a GP or a family planning clinic, either in-person, or by phone or video call.

However, the safety and the effectiveness of this method, particularly when used outside a hospital, has been questioned by Dr Greg Pike of the Bios Centre, who was addressing a conference this week organised by the Centre.

Is women’s choice really based on informed consent, he asked? Do they know and understand the danger of taking such pills?

“Women have been misled by abortion providers”, he said. They are not made fully aware of risk and the effectiveness of the abortive pills, Dr Pike claimed.

Citing research, he noted that 40pc of women who have taken those pills said they experienced more pain than expected. These figures raise questions about whether women are properly informed of these statistics before being prescribed the abortion poll.

Furthermore, the seminar was told, there has been no proper study conducted on the psychological effect of seeing the dead embryo following the abortion.

In Ireland, the HSE guidelines rather callously say: “You can decide how to dispose of the pregnancy remains. They can be flushed down the toilet, or wrapped in tissue and disposed of as you wish.”

This is how a Scottish woman who saw her little child expelled after an abortion pill-induced termination recalls the shocking experience: “In hindsight I wish I hadn’t looked but I did, and that was probably the most traumatic thing I’ve ever seen or done. I thought ‘what on earth?’”

The possible trauma associated with this dramatic experience needs to be properly investigated, the seminar heard.

Some studies found that the pills can fail up to 10pc of the time, with the pregnancy occasionally continuing, the fetus not being spontaneously expelled, or an additional dose of drugs being required.

When this happens at home, there is a higher likelihood that the drugs are not taken as recommended, resulting in higher rates of failure.

An investigation conducted in England has found that “1-in-17 women having an induced medical abortion are subsequently treated at an NHS hospital for complications arising from an incomplete abortion with retained products of conception.”

There are no data available for Ireland.

During the Covid emergency in March 2020, Simon Harris, who was then the Minister for Health, introduced remote consultation by phone or video call for women requesting abortions, also known as teleabortion.

Now that the emergency is ended, this provisional measure should be discontinued but it is likely that the ongoing review of the abortion services will keep it instead.

The HSE has admitted that it does not collect data about complications arising after an at-home abortion. It also recognised that women who have a remote consultation, on the phone or on video call, maybe be subject to coercion.

Dr Pike, who has studied coercion, noted that not all women go back to their doctor after receiving the pills. Others admitted not having used the drugs, and could even have passed them to other women. “There is an association of abortion and trafficking. We know that there is a strong pressure on women involved in trafficking to have an abortion. The tele-abortion model makes it easier for abusers to get hold of the drugs and force them on to women”, he pointed out.

All of these concerns suggest that remote consultation and the use of abortion pills outside of hospitals should be discontinued. The ongoing review of abortion in Ireland should take these issues into consideration.