Warning over 'dangerous' illegal abortion drugs
Women who use abortion drugs they buy illegally are putting their lives at risk, says a family planning group offering abortion by medication.
The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong began a trial of medication-induced, as opposed to surgical, abortion in November last year, and will continue to offer the treatment after it proved successful in 96 of the first 100 cases. Medication has been used in 160 abortions, a quarter of the total, since November.
But despite the success of the pilot scheme, the association's Dr Sue Lo Seen-tsing warns that abortion drugs are dangerous if used without medical supervision, as well as illegal. 'We know that many people buy abortion drugs - sometimes overseas or online - to perform abortions at home, and this is very worrisome,' Lo said.
Abortions are illegal unless carried out at government-designated institutions. The consent of two doctors is required, and they must certify that the woman's psychological or physical health would be at risk if the pregnancy continues, or that the child would be born with serious health problems.
'There are misconceptions that using abortion drugs is a safer way and is less harmful to the body. In reality, it is also a dangerous and complicated procedure. Also, drug-induced abortions are not suitable for everyone,' Lo said. Drug-induced abortion is only suitable in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Any abortion drug on sale in Hong Kong is illegal and unregulated, Lo says. The association obtained the drugs for research purposes and authorised use only.
France was the first country to approve the used of medication for abortions in 1988 and it has since been licensed in more than 30 countries. The method consists of taking two drugs - the first of which would cause the embryo to detach from the uterus, while the second would cause the uterus to contract and discharge the embryonic tissues, in a form similar to a miscarriage. Bleeding would normally last for two to three weeks. Association clinic manager Maggie Lau Mei-ho said: 'Some women found the process long and more painful, with many saying that the experience had left a grim impression on them. Some said seeing the discharged remains of the embryo was scary. Most felt they didn't want to go through the process ever again.'
Lau said the association's services still focused on counselling, and alternatives to abortion for women with unplanned pregnancies.
Abortion medication is completely different from 'morning-after pills' - a contraception method where a woman can take a pill up to 72 hours after sex to prevent a pregnancy. Getting approval for an abortion in Hong Kong is difficult, Lo says.
'Ultimately, our objective is to save as many lives as possible. You don't need an abortion - there are other options,' Lo said. 'If their problem is solvable, we try to change their minds and keep the baby.'
In 2010, 6,276 women sought an abortion with the association. It carried out 1,300 abortions that year. The official number of legal abortions in 2010 was around 11,000.