Pills are used in a fourth of abortions

Roughly a fourth of American women getting early abortions last year did so with drugs rather than surgery, statistics show, as a new study reported improved safety in using the so-called “abortion pill.”

Some experts predict the percentage of such “medical abortions,” which offer more privacy than surgical termination, will rise even more due to the new study.

The research, done at Planned Parenthood clinics, shows that a new way of giving pills to induce abortion virtually eliminated the risk for a rare infection.

“This is the first really huge documentation of how safe and effective medical abortion is,” said Dr. Beverly Winikoff, a professor of family health and population at Columbia University. “The technology is very good and very well used in this country, and probably will be used more and more.”

Two pills are used to induce an abortion. The primary drug, Mifeprex, was first approved in the U.S. in 2000. Use has risen steadily, even though manufacturer Danco Laboratories LLC of New York hasn’t promoted it and the drug can only be obtained at a clinic or doctor’s office, not through a pharmacy. Sales rose 16.5 percent last year, when about 184,000 American women used Mifeprex.

Medical abortions now account for about a quarter of early abortions, a company spokeswoman said. At Planned Parenthood, the biggest provider of medical abortions, they amount to 32 percent of early terminations.

The group’s study analyzed medical abortions at Planned Parenthood centers between 2005 and mid-2008 — about 228,000 cases. It found the abortion pill was about 98.5 percent effective and that changes in how the drugs were given reduced risk of a serious infection from barely 1 in 1,000 cases to 0.06 in 1,000.

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