May 1998

Abortion, revised: Participants in the US clinical trials evaluate mifepristone

Simonds W, Ellertson C, Springer K, Winikoff B. Abortion, revised: Participants in the US clinical trials evaluate mifepristone. Social Science and Medicine. Fall 1998; 46(10):1313-1323 

This paper centers on the questions: How do non-surgical abortion methods affect private experiences of abortions? How might they influence public conceptions of abortion? Drawing on interviews with clients who participated in the 1994-95 U.S. clinical trials of mifepristone at one trial site (conducted during the trials), and focus group interviews conducted with health care workers at all 17 trial sites (after the trials were completed), we examine participants' evaluations of this method of abortion. Surgical abortion functioned as the reference point by which research participants assessed medical abortion. They discussed mifepristone abortion in terms of nature and invasion, privacy and bodily integrity, denial and agency. Clients frequently portrayed mifepristone abortion as a better moral choice than surgical abortion--in some cases even depicting it as not-really-an-abortion but rather as a miscarriage. Clients felt that mifepristone offered them a greater measure of control over their abortion experiences. Health care providers offered critical analysis of their clients' perceptions, yet affirmed the potential of medical abortion to offer women greater variety and latitude in procreative decision-making, and perhaps even to depoliticize the issue of abortion in the U.S. by thwarting the efforts of anti-abortionists to target providers and aborting women.