Ohio Abortion Pill Restrictions Actually Made Women Less Safe, Predictably Enough

Like all mechanisms enabling women bodily and reproductive autonomy, in the state of Ohio, access to abortion pills became heavily restricted by a 2011 law. Following the law, doctors administering abortion pills were required to follow protocol set by the federal Food and Drug Administration that led to “more visits, more side-effects, and higher costs for women compared to before the law,” and an unnecessarily higher, and thus more expensive, dose of one of the pills needed for the abortion, according to a recent study published in the PLOS Medicine journal. Predictably enough, according to the conservative lawmakers responsible for it, the law was made in the name of women’s safety, and, as you could probably guess, according to the aforementioned study, the law has actually accomplished the opposite over the past five years.

Medical experts arguing against the law point out that the FDA guidelines are incredibly outdated — the law, which took effect in 2011, was literally passed back in 2004. They argue that the FDA guidelines doctors are required to follow ignore more recent findings about the safety of the pills and are not only more costly, but also inconvenience women with additional procedures and added steps to the process of completing the abortion.

These experts can now add to this list of arguments against the 2011 law that rather than protect women, it increased the number of complications experienced by Ohio women seeking medical abortions.

After the new rules took effect, women using the abortion pill were three times more likely to need additional treatment, such as another dose of the medication or even surgical procedures, to end their pregnancies, along with more side-effects like nausea and vomiting, according to records obtained by researchers from Ohio clinics. The study notes that this could be because the drug regimen demanded by the 2011 law calls for a higher dose of one medication.

“I’m not saying abortion was dangerous for women who got abortions after the law was enacted,” the study’s lead author, Ushma Upadhyay, told NBC in an interview, “but it was a lot more burdensome. They had to go through additional treatments for their course of care.”

This burden visibly dissuaded busy or financially unstable women of Ohio. In 2010, the year before the law was in place, 22 percent of all abortions in Ohio were performed through medication. Three years later, this number dropped to 5 percent.

Not even delving into how moral, scientific, constitutional, and economic reasoning all side with the pro-choice movement, abortion is, objectively speaking, one of the safest medical procedures out there. You are literally 14 times more likely to die from childbirth, already a relatively safe endeavor in the 21st century, than from having an abortion, according to 2012 Columbia University research.

Yet attacks on abortion access by conservatives are frequently made in the name of protecting women, which, aside from being paternalistic and deceptive as all hell, is simply inaccurate. Limited access to abortion has led to a multitude of unintended consequences, none of which include lowering rates of abortion, and one of these consequences is a rise in self-induced abortions through abortion pills.

In the state of Texas, complicated and unnecessary requirements placed on abortion clinics resulted in the closure of many, a disaster for Texas’ 5.5 million women of reproductive age. Potentially as a result of this, research found that anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women attempted self-induced abortion in recent years.

Cerdit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
CREDIT: Cerdit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Such regulations placed on abortion as a procedure and as medication do not stop abortions from happening, as conservative opponents of reproductive freedom would like to believe. Rather, they merely render it more difficult and more dangerous for women seeking abortions. 

“DIY” abortions are becoming increasingly popular in highly restrictive regions such as those in South America ravaged by Zika. Medical abortion, as the medical community points out in protesting the 2011 Ohio law, is, like surgical abortion, a safe procedure. It boasts a 97 percent success rate in safely ending a pregnancy when women use misoprostol pills together with mifepristone, a drug that inhibits the hormones necessary for pregnancy. However, it is incredibly difficult to obtain mifepristone, and on its own, misoprostol is only 80 percent effective, leading to complications indicated in the study.