A new study of Ohio’s 2011 restrictive abortion law has verified what many state abortion advocates suspected for years: Instead of protecting women’s health, as the law promised, it put women’s health at greater risk.
This law relied on federal drug standards from 2000 to inform 2011 instructions and dosage for the abortion pill mifepristone. Even though new research found that these outdated rules were no longer the safest for women, conservative Ohio lawmakers pushed the law forward. This law also made abortions more complicated and expensive to obtain.
“I was expecting an increase in negative outcomes, but certainly not three-fold. The side effects were far, far worse.”
The study, published on Tuesday by University of California, San Francisco researchers, found that Ohio women who got an abortion after the 2011 law went into place were three times more likely to need extra health care during or after the procedure.
“I was expecting an increase in negative outcomes, but certainly not three-fold,” said Ushma Upadhyay, the study’s lead author. “The side effects were far, far worse.”
To Upadhyay and her fellow researchers, it’s clear why. The 2011 law required women take a higher dosage of mifepristone than necessary—an amount that came with side effects like nausea that would cause women to throw up the pill and take it again. And again. In some cases, women had to return to the clinic due to an “incomplete abortion.”
Doctors who followed recent research knew that this wasn’t the right protocol, but were required by law to tell women it was.
“The law required physicians to alter their evidence-based practices to provide care that may have been more burdensome for their patients,” the study reads.
Mifespristone is only one of the medications required to induce a medical abortion, an abortion option for women who are no more than ten weeks pregnant. But it’s the most expensive. By boosting its dosage, the 2011 law also decreased the likelihood of a woman being able to afford the procedure. Prior to 2011, 22 percent of all Ohio abortions were medication-based, the research found. By 2014, only 5 percent of abortions fell into this category.
“This study supports that lawmakers need to use scientific research to create health laws.”
“This goes against the newer research that shows how medication abortions have continued to improve and become more common,” said Upadhyay.
This decline in medication abortions could also be linked to the unnecessarily strict restraints linked to the 2011 law. Not only did it carry outdated drug information, but the law also narrowed the window of time for women to take the abortion pill. This time frame was not based on medical research.
This tactic isn’t new when it comes to state-level abortion laws. Few restrictive laws are based on actual data or scientific research — but are still touted as efforts to improve “women’s health.”
The most prominent example of these laws is HB2, the Texas law that placed unnecessary building requirements on abortion clinics — requirements that forced many to shut down. The Supreme Court ruled against HB2 in June, citing extensive research on how harmful the law was to women’s health to explain its decision.
Upadhyay hopes research like hers, especially after the HB2 ruling, will continue to shine a logical light on illogical state and federal abortion laws. While the Ohio law was overruled by new Food and Drug Administration regulations in March, she hopes her team’s findings will remind lawmakers what happens when they ignore scientific data.
“This study supports that lawmakers need to use scientific research to create health laws, especially evidence-based studies,” she said. “We still have a long ways to go.”