Conference Coverage

Abortion restrictions linked to less evidence-based care for miscarriages


AT ACOG 2023

Training hospitals that have state or institutional abortion restrictions are less likely to follow the evidence-based standard of care in diagnosing and managing miscarriages, including taking patient preferences into account, according to a cross-sectional study presented at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The results revealed that “abortion restrictions have far-reaching effects on early pregnancy loss care and on resident education,” the researchers concluded.

“Abortion restrictions don’t just affect people seeking abortions; they affect people also suffering from early pregnancy loss,” Aurora Phillips, MD, an ob.gyn. resident at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center, said in an interview. “It’s harder to make that diagnosis and to be able to offer interventions, and these institutions that had restrictions also were less likely to have mifepristone or office based human aspiration, which are the most efficient and cost-effective interventions that we have.”

For example, less than half the programs surveyed offered mifepristone to help manage a miscarriage, “with availability varying inversely with abortion restrictions,” they found. After considering all characteristics of residency programs, “institutional abortion restrictions and bans were more important than state policies or religious affiliation in determining whether evidence-based early pregnancy loss treatments were available,” the researchers found, though their findings predated the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. “Training institutions with a commitment to evidence-based family planning care and education are able to ensure access to the most evidence-based, cost-effective, and timely treatments for pregnancy loss even in the face of state abortion restrictions, thereby preserving patient safety, physician competency, and health care system sustainability,” they wrote.

Reduced access leads to higher risk interventions

An estimated 10%-20% of pregnancies result in early miscarriage, totaling more than one million cases in the U.S. each year. But since treatments for miscarriage often overlap with those for abortion, the researchers wondered whether differences existed in how providers managed miscarriages in states or institutions with strict abortion restrictions versus management in hospitals without restrictions.

They also looked at how closely the management strategies adhered to ACOG’s recommendations, which advise that providers consider both ultrasound imaging and other factors, including clinical reasoning and patient preferences, before diagnosing early pregnancy loss and considering possible interventions.

For imaging guidelines, ACOG endorses the criteria established for ultrasound diagnosis of first trimester pregnancy loss from the Society of Radiologists in 2012. But, the authors note, these guidelines are very conservative, exceeding previous measurements that had a 99%-100% predictive value for pregnancy loss, in the interest of “[prioritizing preservation of] fetal potential over facilitating expeditious care.” Hence the reason ACOG advises providers to include clinical judgment and patient preferences in their approach to care.

”In places where abortion is heavily regulated, clinicians managing miscarriages may cautiously rely on the strictest criteria to differentiate early pregnancy loss from potentially viable pregnancy and may not offer certain treatments commonly associated with abortion,” the authors noted. ACOG recommends surgical aspiration and medical treatment with both mifepristone and misoprostol as the safest and most effective options in managing miscarriages.

“Treating early pregnancy loss without the use of mifepristone is more likely to fail, is more likely to require an unscheduled procedure, and people who choose medication management for their miscarriages are usually trying to avoid a procedure, so that is the downside of not using mifepristone,” coauthor Rachel M. Flink-Bochacki, MD, an associate professor at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center, said in an interview.

“Office-based uterine aspiration has the same safety profile as uterine aspiration in the operating room minus the risks of anesthesia and also helps patients get in faster because they don’t need to wait for OR time,” Dr. Flink-Bochacki explained. “So again, for a patient who wants an aspiration and does not want to pass the pregnancy at home, not having access to office-based aspiration could lead them to miscarry at home, which has higher risks and is not what they wanted.”


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