No need for ultrasound before medical abortion
Most women who seek the abortion pill at Planned Parenthood clinics, for instance, undergo ultrasound.
However, ultrasound adds to the cost of medical abortion, which in the U.S. ranges from $ 350 to $ 650, and may be more depending on what tests or exams are done, according to Planned Parenthood.
And ultrasound may not even be available in some parts of the world. So the common belief that women need an ultrasound may be a barrier to receiving a medical abortion, according to the researchers on the new study, led by Hillary Bracken of Gynuity Health Projects in New York City.
Gynuity is a non-profit research organization that focuses on reproductive health services.
Bracken and her colleagues tested whether a woman’s estimate of her last menstrual period, along with a physical exam, is enough to judge her eligibility for an early abortion using mifepristone and misoprostol.
The study, published in the obstetrics journal BJOG, included 4,484 women seeking the abortion pill at any of 10 U.S. family planning clinics, including eight Planned Parenthood clinics.
Providers at the study sites — most often nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners or physician assistants — asked the women to give, or estimate, the date of their last menstrual period and performed physical exams. The women then underwent ultrasound.
Overall, only 1.6 percent of the women would have been given the abortion pill beyond the standard nine weeks if their providers had relied on their estimates and a physical exam alone.
And even in those cases, all of the women except for one were within the 11th week of their last menstrual period — a point at which, studies show, the effectiveness of medical abortion is still high, without an increased risk of complications.
Overall, medical abortion is effective 97 percent of the time, with failed attempts followed up with a surgical abortion. After the ninth week of pregnancy, that effectiveness may begin to wane, “but it is not a steep drop-off,” Bracken said in an interview. “Any reduction in efficacy would be gradual.”
The findings, she said, indicate that doctors and other providers who lack ultrasound equipment can still “feel safe” in offering medical abortion. And that could help broaden access to medical abortion in rural parts of the U.S., as well as developing countries where ultrasound would be largely unavailable.