Harm Reduction for Abortion in the United States

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Abstract

Access to abortion in the United States has eroded significantly. Accordingly, there is a growing movement to empower women to self-induce abortion. To date, physicians' roles and responsibilities in this changing environment have not been defined. Here, we consider a harm reduction approach to first-trimester abortion as a way for physicians to honor clinical and moral obligations to care for women, negotiate ever-increasing abortion restrictions, and support women who consider abortion self-induction. Harm reduction approaches to abortion have been successfully implemented in a range of countries around the world and typically take the form of teaching women how to use misoprostol. When women self-administer misoprostol, rather than resort to other means such as self-instrumentation or abdominal trauma, to end a pregnancy, maternal mortality falls. There are clinical and ethical benefits as well as limitations to a harm reduction approach to abortion in U.S. settings. Its legal implications for patients and physicians are unclear. Ultimately, we suggest that despite its limitations, a harm reduction approach may help both physicians and patients.

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