Experiences with misoprostol-only used for self-managed abortion and acquired from an online or retail pharmacy in the United States

December 2023

Experiences with misoprostol-only used for self-managed abortion and acquired from an online or retail pharmacy in the United States

Johnson DM, Ramaswamy S, Gomperts R. Contraception. December 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.contraception.2023.110345

This study aimed to understand individual experiences with medication abortion using misoprostol-only among people living in the United States.

Study design
We conducted 31 semistructured anonymous in-depth interviews with individuals who used misoprostol-only for self-managed medication abortion. Participants were recruited from Aid Access, an online telemedicine organization that provided prescriptions for misoprostol to eligible people in all 50 states in May and June 2020 when a combined mifepristone and misoprostol regimen was unavailable. We coded transcripts with a flexible coding approach and focused on perceptions and experiences with use.

Participants were knowledgeable about misoprostol. Previous abortion experiences shaped perceptions of misoprostol-only by allowing comparison to the mifepristone and misoprostol regimen. Most participants expressed an unwavering desire for an effective abortion method, regardless of the medications or regimen. Individual physical experiences with misoprostol, including bleeding, cramping, nausea, and diarrhea, varied in intensity and duration. Participants proactively managed symptoms with self-care strategies and drew extensively from their prior experiences with menstruation, miscarriage, abortion, and childbirth. Clear instructions and information on potential complications and what to expect throughout the abortion fostered a sense of preparedness, and personalized interactions with an online help desk brought comfort.

Misoprostol offered an essential abortion method for study participants. This regimen was physically challenging for some, and there is potentially a greater need for communication and support for individuals using misoprostol-only regimens. Prior reproductive experiences informed participant’s knowledge, preparedness, pain management, and ability to both recognize and manage potential complications.

As restrictions on mifepristone continue, more people may use misoprostol-only regimens. All regimens can be supported with detailed instructions, clear expectations, information on signs of potential complications, and personalized support. To achieve reproductive autonomy, people must have access to a range of abortion care options that meet their needs.