Evidence Does Not Support Policies That Limit the Types of Physicians Who Perform Abortions

July 12, 2022

Woman in surgical mask and doctor's coat standing in front of others in surgical masks

WASHINGTON, DC (July 12, 2022)—Some states have passed laws prohibiting providers other than obstetrician/gynecologist physicians (OBGYNs) from performing abortions – a move that could be justified in theory if abortion care from OBGYNs were substantially safer. In a study selected as the Editor's Choice for the July/August issue of Women's Health Issues, authors compared adverse events for abortions performed by OBGYNs to those performed by other types of physicians and did not find them to be different.

Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

Dolly Patel, of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, and colleagues used abortion claims data from a large database that includes claims from employers and health plans in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. After excluding the small proportion of abortions performed by non-physicians, they categorized the physicians providing the remaining 35,407 abortions as OBGYNs or other specialties; the most common non-OBGYN specialties were family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, and anesthesiology. They also identified abortion-related morbidity or adverse events (defined as events that required overnight hospital admission, additional surgery, or blood transfusion) occurring within six weeks of each abortion.

The authors did not find any statistically significant difference in abortion-related morbidity or adverse events with abortions provided by physicians of other specialties compared to OBGYNs. “Our findings do not lend support to state restrictions limiting abortion care to OBGYNs,” the authors explain. “Allowing physicians of different specialties the opportunity to provide abortion care could potentially increase the number of available providers, thereby increasing abortion access for individuals living in areas of the country where abortion access is currently limited.”

“Now that several states have banned abortion, it is particularly important that states where abortion is still legal resist pressure to impose non-evidence-based barriers to abortion care,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “Evidence such as this study is important for showing policymakers that proposed restrictions that might sound like they could promote safety wouldn’t necessarily do so – they would limit access to an important health care service without providing any benefits to patients.”

Association of Provider Specialty With Abortion-Related Morbidity and Adverse Events Among Patients Having Procedural and Medication Abortions” has been published in the July/August 2022 issue of Women’s Health Issues.