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Researchers find more support needed for self-managed abortions

Woman holding a homemade cardboard sign saying my body, my choice. It's partially covering her face.

Researchers from The Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) are investigating how self-managed abortions relate to social connectedness and issues of reproductive control and autonomy.

Self-managed abortion, also known as medical or medication abortion, is when a pregnancy is ended via the use of medication with limited or no involvement from a medical professional. This method of abortion has been globally established as safe and effective.

Together with Ulster University and the University of Glasgow, WELS researchers Professor Lesley Hoggart, Dr Carrie Purcell, Dr Victoria Newton and Dr Ayomide Oluseye published their findings in the paper, Social connectedness and supported self-management of early medication abortion in the UK: experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic and learning for the future.

The paper specifically examines the experiences of self-managed abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to support available from professionals, family and friends. Using qualitative, experience-centred interviews this paper is the first to explore factors such as connection, support and isolation during self-managed abortion in the UK.

They found having a support network including family, friends and health professionals was vital and that these connections meet different needs and experiences. The research also revealed challenges with how health professionals contact those who wish to have self-managed abortions in a consistent and in a tailored way. Considering these findings, the paper strongly encourages a focus on patient-centred, individualised care and champions choice for those having an abortion.

Further research has been published in the paper Foregrounding pain in self-managed early medication abortion which looks specifically into pain that could be experienced in the context of self-managed abortions. The paper found that guidance around pain needs to be improved and individuals should be prepared for the pain they may encounter to avoid negative experiences. The paper also concluded that likening the pain to ‘period pain’ is unclear, misleading and should be avoided.

Professor Lesley Hoggart, OU Professor of Social Policy Research said:
“Our research indicates an ongoing requirement to champion supported self-managed abortion, as well as the right to choose an abortion method, in order to enhance patient-centred care.”

Dr Carrie Purcell, Research Fellow in the Faculty of WELS added:
“Navigating self-managed abortion at home can present difficulties, including feelings of isolation and fear. Our findings emphasise the need for support and clear information.”

The research contributes to the OU’s Open Societal Challenges, an approach which engages colleagues, students and external organisations to create valuable research. Under the themes of Tackling Inequalities, Living Well, and Sustainability these challenges aim to solve societal issues through impact driven research.

In addition, Professor Hoggart offers opportunities to learn more about abortion stigma through face to face and online workshops via the charity Abortion Talks. These workshops aim to foster communication about abortion in both community and professional settings.

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