Only 40 abortions have resulted in complications since 2004

When a new Mississippi law began requiring doctors to report all abortion-related complications they treat, lawmakers framed it as a way to shed light on a hidden epidemic of suffering.

“There is credible evidence that two (2) to three (3) Mississippi women per week experience complications after inpatient abortions,” the 2004 bill said.

During the debate on the bill, the then representative. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, responded to criticism that it would be a burden on abortion providers by pointing out that all doctors would have to report complications, because women “don’t often go back to the same doctor who slaughtered them.”

Yet in the 16 years after the law went into effect, the health department collected just 40 reports of complications, according to documents Mississippi Today obtained from the health department through a records request. Nearly all complications were from easily treatable conditions, and no deaths or comas were reported.

Between about 4,000 and 6,000 Mississippians had an abortion each year during that same period.

Between 2018 and 2020, 33 Mississippians died from pregnancy-related complications. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects such data annually, but to protect confidentiality they do not publish the number of maternal deaths by state when the number is less than 10.)

Mississippi Today asked the health department if there are any known issues with the data or incomplete reporting. The department did not respond.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to fail to report an abortion complication.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group affiliated with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, creates annual reports on states’ abortion reporting. Genevieve Plaster, the organization’s deputy policy director, said the small number of reported complications, in some zero years, suggests that some complications are underreporting, especially given the high rate of medical abortion in Mississippi. She pointed to research in California that found a 5% complication rate and a 0.3% major complication rate for medical abortions.

“It is highly unlikely that complications did not occur” in 2019, he said.

Fillingane said that when the Complications Reporting Act was introduced, he and other lawmakers heard “rumors and stories, anecdotal evidence of doctors doing botched abortions in the operating room, and we didn’t want that to happen in Mississippi.” In 2003, an Alabama woman died after an abortion performed by a doctor who also worked in Mississippi. She lost her license in both states.

Fillingane has looked at reports of complications from time to time, he said.

“I think we always suspected that the number of complications was small, that there weren’t going to be such a massive number of complications,” he said. “But we didn’t know. You can assume something and be dead wrong in your assumption until you have something like this instead.”

The end of elective abortion in Mississippi does not affect the requirement to report complications: doctors will continue to report any complications to the health department, through a form that does not contain the patient’s name or identifying information such as social security number or date of birth

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a policy organization that supports abortion rights, said many states began passing complication reporting requirements around 2010.

“The idea was that there were all these complications of abortion that people weren’t aware of, and that abortion itself was dangerous, so there must be all these negative outcomes that people just aren’t aware of,” Nash said. . “The problem with that is fundamentally that abortion is safe and effective.”

The anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life has proposed model legislation that, like the Mississippi law, requires state health departments to track information on complications. Nash said he hopes states where abortion is now almost completely banned will pass laws requiring doctors to report every procedure with documentation showing why it’s legal.

In the 2022 session, both Fillingane, now a state senator, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, introduced a piece of model AUL legislation that would have required doctors to report detailed information about every abortion they receive. they perform. Both bills died in committee.

The model legislation states that “Surgical and non-surgical (chemical) abortion is an invasive procedure that can cause serious, short- and long-term physical and psychological complications for women, including, but not limited to…” It then lists more than 20 complications , most of which Mississippi doctors have never reported to the state health department.

Fillingane said new legislation in the next session could specify what doctors must report when they perform abortions that are still legal in Mississippi, when the pregnant person’s life is in danger or when they have reported rape to police.

“What is life-threatening, how did you come to that conclusion, what evidence are you putting in your file to support that?” he said doctors could be asked to report. “Or if it’s based on the reports that have been made of a violation, what kind of supporting information, what kind of monitoring or verification did you do of that alleged violation? Has there been a police report, has there been an investigation, has there been a prosecution, where are we on that?

Several obstetricians and gynecologists have told Mississippi Today that they anticipate that no doctors in the state will perform abortions in rape cases due to the risk of being sued or criminally investigated.

Gunn, who also co-authored the 2004 complications reporting bill, did not respond to a request for comment.

Now that abortion is banned in nearly all cases in Mississippi, abortion pills, which Mississippians can order online from overseas pharmacies, are likely to be the focus of new legislative efforts. Lawmakers have cited safety concerns about the pills, which have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and have been widely used across the country since 2000.

“… I think that causes some major problems, when you give a woman a handful of drugs to go home and kick out a child,” Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, told Mississippi Today in early May. .

Mississippi statistics do not indicate what type of abortion caused the complication. But more than half of the abortions performed at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic for years, were performed with medication.

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet earlier this year found that about 1% of people nationally who used pills to self-monitor an abortion reported serious complications, with no deaths reported.

See the annual complication reports:

2004-2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

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