London - It is no riskier for women to carry out their own abortions at home with pills bought online than it is to have one supervised by a doctor, researchers claim.
In a controversial practice, abortion pills can be bought illegally over the internet. Now a study claims that taking the tablets at home after an online consultation with a doctor is just as safe as an abortion supervised by a medic.
Campaigners say the requirement for women to travel back and forth to a clinic is unnecessary and creates extra stress at what is already a difficult time. But others say that women should never be left alone to carry out the procedure.
The researchers, from Princeton University in the US, looked at the records of 1 000 women in Ireland – where abortion is illegal even under supervision – who had abortions using pills bought online between 2010 and 2012.
The service was provided by campaign group Women on Web, which asks patients 25 questions before sending them the pills, giving instructions and advice.
According to the researchers, these women were no more likely to suffer complications or side effects than those who had taken pills in front of a doctor or nurse.
The study found 9.3 percent suffered side effects for which they were urged to seek medical advice, including 2.6 percent who developed an infection and needed antibiotics, and 0.7 percent who required a blood transfusion.
These figures are broadly in line with the numbers suffering complications after a supervised medical abortion.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the team say their findings have "important implications" for the future of abortions.
Clare Murphy, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is the country’s leading abortion provider, said: "This study shows medical abortion with online support can be performed safely and successfully at home, and indeed is considerably safer than continuing a pregnancy to term.
"Organisations like Women on Web supply the same safe, high quality medications that women would receive if they came to BPAS." She also said "the greatest risk women face when using online pills is not a medical one, but a legal one", pointing out that taking the pills illegally carries a maximum sentence of life in jail.
However Marion Woods, spokesperson for pro-life pregnancy care charity Life Northern Ireland, said the study did not provide enough evidence that online abortions were safe.
She added: "Nobody should be taking medical pills of any kind without first contacting their registered GP or health provider.
"Both that unborn life and the pregnant woman should and must be afforded every care, especially if the woman is facing a crisis in her pregnancy.
"Abortion pills do not provide support to her, they only end the life of her unborn child."
Possible complications of abortion include infections, heavy bleeding and some pregnancy tissue remaining in the womb.