December 9, 2014 — Women who underwent abortion procedures experienced an overall complication rate of 2.1%, substantially lower than the complication rate for childbirth, according to a study published Friday in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Medscape reports (Hand, Medscape, 12/9).
For the study, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data on more than 50,000 beneficiaries enrolled in California's fee-for-service Medicaid program who underwent abortion procedures between 2009 and 2010. Specifically, the researchers examined 54,911 abortions to assess the complication rates among patients within six weeks of undergoing the procedure.
According to the UCSF News Services, the study was the first to analyze complete data for all the health care received by women after undergoing an abortion procedure, including use of an emergency department for post-procedure care (Kurtzman, UCSF News Services, 12/8).
Overall, the researchers found that the complication rates were 2.1% for medication abortions, 1.3% for aspiration abortions in the first trimester and 1.5% for abortions in the second trimester or later. According to the researchers, such rates are similar to those found in previous studies, even when accounting for post-abortion care, and are "much lower" than the complication rate for childbirth (Medscape, 12/9).
Further, the researchers found that women who underwent an abortion experienced major complications less than 0.25% of the time, a rate similar to the complication rate for colonoscopies (Allen, Daily Beast, 12/8).
According to the study, 97% of the abortions were conducted in outpatient clinics or physician offices, while 3% of the abortions were conducted in hospitals (UCSF News Services, 12/8).
Complication Rates Vary, Study Finds
The researchers found that the complication rate varied by several factors. For example, the study found that women ages 30 to 39 were more likely to experience abortion-related complications than women ages 20 to 24 and that Hispanic women who underwent abortions were significantly less likely to have complications than white women.
The study also found that women were more likely to experience abortion-related complications from abortions performed at hospitals, physician offices or physician group offices than from abortions performed at outpatient centers (Medscape, 12/9).
The researchers noted that the study might have "overestimated" the major and minor complication rates as a result of the composition of the study population. Specifically, the researchers noted that beneficiaries in California's Medicaid program are primarily low-income individuals who might have a higher number of health problems (Daily Beast, 12/8).
Study co-author Ushma Upadhyay said, "Abortion is very safe as currently performed, which calls into question the need for additional regulations that purportedly aim to improve safety" (UCSF News Services, 12/8).
According to the researchers, "there is a need to consider the public health effect" of restrictions designed to close abortion clinics, "weighing any theoretical incremental reduction in patient risk that may occur" by closing the facilities "against any increases in risk that may occur with reduced access to abortion care" (Medscape, 12/9).