Amid Abortion Debate, the Pursuit of Science - ProPublica
NM: Let’s talk about the study that has probably had the greatest impact so far: the one looking at whether trained non-doctors — nurses, midwives, physicians assistants — can safely perform vacuum-aspiration abortions in the first trimester. That study included nearly 20,000 patients throughout California — one of the largest studies on abortion ever done in the United States. The study had two key findings. First, it found almost no difference in complication rates in abortions done by doctors versus non-doctors. Second, the overall rate of complications for both groups was very low — much lower than abortion opponents claim. Has the study shed light on other abortion-related issues as well?
TW: Yes. One has to do with hospital transfers [patients who require hospital care after having an abortion]. We were interested in this topic, of course, because it’s a category of complication, and you want to track it. But it wasn’t something we intended to focus on.
Then states [including Texas] started passing new laws that require physicians who offer abortion care to have admitting privileges to hospitals. And we realized that, thanks to [the non-doctor] study, we had very good data showing that complications requiring transfers to hospitals are actually exceedingly rare.
Of about 20,000 patients over several years, only four were directly transferred.