December 2020

Prevalence of self-managed abortion among women of reproductive age in the United States

Ralph L, Foster D, Raifman S, Biggs A, Samari G, Upadhyay U, Gerdts C, Grossman D. Prevalence of self-managed abortion among women of reproductive age in the United States. Jama Network. December 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.29245

Importance: Increasing evidence indicates that people are attempting their own abortions outside the formal health care system. However, population-based estimates of experience with self-managed abortion (SMA) are lacking.

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of SMA attempts among the general US population.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional survey study was fielded August 2 to 17, 2017 among English- and Spanish- speaking, self-identified female panel members from the GfK web-based KnowledgePanel. Women ages 18 to 49 years were approached to complete a 1-time survey. Data were analyzed from September 22, 2017, to March 26, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures: SMA was defined as “some women may do something on their own to try to end a pregnancy without medical assistance. For example, they may get information from the internet, a friend, or family member about pills, medicine, or herbs they can take on their own, or they may do something else to try to end the pregnancy.” SMA was assessed using the question, “Have you ever taken or used something on your own, without medical assistance, to try to end an unwanted pregnancy?” Participants reporting SMA were asked about methods used, reasons, and outcomes. Factors associated with SMA experience, including age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nativity, reproductive health history, and geography, were assessed. Projected lifetime SMA prevalence was estimated using discrete-time event history models, adjusting for abortion underreporting.

Results: Among 14 151 participants invited to participate, 7022 women (49.6%) (mean [SE] age, 33.9 [9.0] years) agreed to participate. Among these, 57.4% (95% CI, 55.8%-59.0%) were non-Hispanic White, 20.2% (95% CI, 18.9%-21.5%) were Hispanic, and 13.3% (95% CI, 12.1%-14.5%) were non-Hispanic Black; and 15.1% (95% CI, 14.1%-16.3%) reported living at less than 100% federal poverty level (FPL). A total of 1.4% (95% CI, 1.0%-1.8%) of participants reported a history of attempting SMA while in the US. Projected lifetime prevalence of SMA adjusting for underreporting of abortion was 7.0% (95% CI, 5.5%-8.4%). In bivariable analyses, non-Hispanic Black (prevalence ratio [PR], 3.16; 95% CI, 1.48-6.75) and Hispanic women surveyed in English (PR, 3.74; 95% CI, 1.78-7.87) were more likely than non-Hispanic White women to have attempted SMA. Women living below 100% of the FPL were also more likely to have attempted SMA compared with those at 200% FPL or greater (PR, 3.43; 95% CI, 1.83-6.42). At most recent SMA attempt, 20.0% (95% CI, 10.9%-33.8%) of respondents used misoprostol, 29.2% (95% CI, 17.5%-44.5%) used another medication or drug, 38.4% (95% CI, 25.3%-53.4%) used herbs, and 19.8% (95% CI, 10.0%-35.5%) used physical methods. The most common reasons for SMA included that it seemed faster or easier (47.2% [95% CI, 33.0%-61.8%]) and the clinic was too expensive (25.2% [95% CI, 15.7%-37.7%]). Of all attempts, 27.8% (95% CI, 16.6%-42.7%) of respondents reported they were successful; the remainder reported they had subsequent facility-based abortions (33.6% [95% CI, 21.0%-49.0%]), continued the pregnancy (13.4% [95% CI, 7.4%-23.1%]), had a miscarriage (11.4% [95% CI, 4.2%-27.5%]), or were unsure (13.3% [95% CI, 6.8%-24.7%]). A total of 11.0% (95% CI, 5.5%-21.0%) of respondents reported a complication.

Conclusions and Relevance: This cross-sectional study found that approximately 7% of US women reported having attempted SMA in their lifetime, commonly with ineffective methods. These findings suggest that surveys of SMA experience among patients at abortion clinics may capture only one-third of SMA attempts. People’s reasons for attempting SMA indicate that as abortion becomes more restricted, SMA may become more common.

Tagged with Abortion, United States