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Abortions send fewer women to the ER than wisdom teeth removals, study finds

Opponents of abortion argue for laws to ensure women can get emergency help, if they need it, after abortions. But critics of such restrictions contend they’re meant to shutter clinics

by Carter Sherman
Jun 15 2018, 3:45pm

Abortion patients rarely go to the emergency room after the procedure. In fact, getting wisdom teeth or tonsils out is more likely to land you in the ER afterward, says a study out Thursday, in a finding that undermines an argument abortion foes use to target clinics.

“Abortion care is, thus, safer than many other unregulated outpatient procedures,” concluded the study, which was published in the BMC Medicine journal and led by researchers from Brown University and the University of California, San Francisco. “Perceptions that abortion is unsafe are not based on evidence.”

Researchers relied on data collected in a nationwide survey of nearly 1,000 hospitals between 2009 and 2013. During that time, women between 15 and 49 years old made nearly 190 million visits to hospitals’ emergency departments.

Less than .01 percent of those visits were linked to abortions. Of the visits that were related to abortion, just over half resulted only in “observation,” according to the study. Patients may have headed to the hospital if they didn’t realize that certain symptoms — like bleeding or camps — are normal after abortions, the study’s researchers reasoned, or if the stigma around abortion made them unnecessarily nervous about its medical complications.

Another fifth of all abortion-linked visits to the ER were for “major incidents,” according to the study. And out of nearly 28,000 such visits, just 15 ended in a patient’s death.

Nevertheless, eight states have passed laws requiring abortion clinics to be located within a certain distance of a hospital. Another seven also want clinics to form pacts with hospitals, directing the hospital to take care of clinic patients if something goes wrong. And 10 states require that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital, which also guarantee that the hospital will admit that doctor’s patients.

Opponents of abortion argue that these laws are essential to making sure women can get emergency help, if they need it, after abortions. But critics of such restrictions contend that they’re actually meant to shutter clinics: Because hospitals often steer clear of abortion and don’t want to contract with its providers, doctors at abortion clinics often can’t secure admitting privileges. These providers, who have to apply for privileges, are also frequently unable to guarantee that they’d admit enough patients to make the privileges worth it.

Hospitals, by the way, can’t turn away people in medical emergencies.

In Texas, a 2013 law requiring abortion providers obtain admitting privileges led 21 of the states’ 40 abortion clinics to close their doors. The Supreme Court ultimately struck down that law, in 2016, after finding that it didn’t provide enough medical benefits to justify the burdens it put on women trying to get abortions.