Nonetheless, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who opposes abortion, defended her state’s ban on prescriptions via telemedicine (rather than in-person) appointments by calling medication abortions “very dangerous medical procedures” and claiming that “a woman is five times more likely to end up in an emergency room if they’re utilizing this kind of method for an abortion.”
Noem’s press office said Noem meant to say four times more likely, not five (a figure she has used in the past), and cited research on emergency room visits by women with Medicaid coverage who got medication abortions. She isn’t citing the study correctly, though. It found that women who got medication abortions were 53% more likely (not four times) to have a subsequent emergency room visit for an abortion-related reason than a woman who received a surgical abortion [Robert Farley, “Noem’s Misleading Claim About Safety of Medication Abortion,” FactCheck.org, 2022.07.07].
But women taking advantage of telemedicine for abortions still visit the emergency room more often than women who go in to a physical medical office, right? So telemedicine must be more harmful to women, and the state must rush in to protect our fragile flowers of womanhood from this grievous harm, right?
“For about 5% of patients who have medication abortions, an additional procedure will be required to complete the abortion,” Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, the lead author of the study, told us in an email. “This is not considered a severe adverse event, it just means that the abortion was not effective. This additional procedure can be done at a clinic or by an obgyn, but people who don’t have a primary care provider often go to emergency rooms. In our paper, we examined emergency department visits and complications that were treated at clinics, obgyns and primary care providers.
“A medication abortion may result in more ED [Emergency Department] visits than a procedural abortion,” Upadhyay said. “Unlike an in-clinic procedural abortion but similar to a natural pregnancy loss (miscarriage), much of the process of a medication abortion occurs while a patient is at home without medical supervision. This may contribute to increased concern about the symptoms which may then lead people to visit an ED for a consultation. This consultation does not necessarily mean an adverse event has occurred.”
“Studnicki’s analysis finds much higher rates of complications because they consider any ED visit to be a complication,” Upadhyay said. “It is important to note … that ED visits are not an indicator of abortion safety. ED visits do not represent a concerning outcome in and of themselves. Many people who have obtained abortions visit EDs afterwards because they have no other primary care provider. This is particularly true of Medicaid patients.”
Upadhyay points to a national study she led in 2018 that, she said, found “over 50% of ED visits after abortion receive no treatment or diagnosis. They receive observation care only. Looking at ED visits alone without attention to the treatments they received is not scientifically sound because those visits may not involve a problem that requires intervention” [Farley, 2022.07.07].
If you need medicine, see a doctor, in person or by amazing 21st-century videophone. If you need science, see a scientist. If need a snowjob, see Snow Queen Kristi Noem.