Clinical Health Updates

No long-term harm from medical abortion

Clinical Question:
What are the long-term health consequences of medical abortion?

Bottom Line:
Subsequent pregnancy outcomes are similar after medical abortion using prostaglandins to the outcomes after surgical abortion.

Virk J, Zhang J, Olsen J. Medical abortion and the risk of subsequent adverse pregnancy outcomes. N Engl J Med 2007;357:648-653.

Study Design:
Cohort (prospective)

The long-term safety of surgical abortion in the first trimester is well established. Despite the increasing use of medical abortion (abortion by means of medication), limited information is available regarding the effects of this procedure on subsequent pregnancies. The authors identified all women living in Denmark who had undergone an abortion for nonmedical reasons between 1999 and 2004 and obtained information regarding subsequent pregnancies from national registries. Risks of ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion, preterm birth (at <37 weeks of gestation), and low birth weight (<2500 g) in the first subsequent pregnancy in women who had had a first-trimester medical abortion were compared with risks in women who had had a first-trimester surgical abortion. Among 11,814 pregnancies in women who had had a previous first-trimester medical abortion (2710 women) or surgical abortion (9104 women), there were 274 ectopic pregnancies (respective incidence rates, 2.4% and 2.3%), 1426 spontaneous abortions (12.2% and 12.7%), 552 preterm births (5.4% and 6.7%), and 478 births with low birth weight (4.0% and 5.1%). After adjustment for maternal age, interval between pregnancies, gestational age at abortion, parity, cohabitation status, and urban or nonurban residence, medical abortion was not associated with a significantly increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (relative risk, 1.04; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.76 to 1.41), spontaneous abortion (relative risk, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.72 to 1.05), preterm birth (relative risk, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.66 to 1.18), or low birth weight (relative risk, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.61 to 1.11). Gestational age at medical abortion was not significantly associated with any of these adverse outcomes.