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We work with partners around the world to advance reproductive justice by expanding access to abortion and contraception.

Ipas Sustainable Abortion Care

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The global movement for legal, accessible abortion is growing. Our staff and partners in countries as diverse as Bolivia, Malawi and India are working to ensure all people can access high-quality abortion care.

Where We Work

The global movement for legal, accessible abortion is growing. Our staff and partners in countries as diverse as Bolivia, Malawi and India are working to ensure all people can access high-quality abortion care.


Our materials are designed to help reproductive health advocates and professionals expand access to high-quality abortion care.

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Clinical Updates in Reproductive Health

How we make clinical recommendations

Last reviewed: April 23, 2023

Ipas strives to integrate the best scientific evidence into our clinical programs. This section documents the methodology Ipas uses to make its clinical recommendations.

Using evidence to support recommendations

Clinical recommendations are based on relevant published, peer-reviewed evidence. For each clinical topic contained in the Clinical Updates in Reproductive Health, we conduct systematic searches of the literature using a methodology drawn from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) and Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines (Page et al., 2021; Stroup, Berlin, & Morton, 2000).

Process for making recommendations

Ipas applies the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) system to its recommendation formation (Schunemann et al., 2013). The GRADE system provides a framework to evaluate the quality of the available evidence, and to translate that evidence into a context-appropriate recommendation. For every recommendation in the Clinical Updates, both the quality of evidence and the strength of the recommendation based on that evidence are reported.

Quality of evidence

Sources of clinical evidence range from well-designed large clinical studies that have minimized bias to uncontrolled clinical observations, case series or reports. When there is no available evidence, expert opinion may be used. In the GRADE system, the quality of evidence related to a specific clinical outcome is defined as both the extent to which one can be confident that an estimate of effect is correct, and the extent to which the evidence relates to the specific context in which it is being applied . When assessing the quality of evidence, the following criteria are considered:

  • study design
  • study limitations and the risk of bias
  • consistency of the results across available studies
  • precision of the results (wide or narrow confidence intervals)
  • applicability with respect to populations, interventions and settings where the proposed intervention may be used
  • likelihood of publication bias

Quality of evidence determinations are reported as follows (Balshem et al., 2011):

  • A high grade: we are very confident that the true effect lies close to the estimate of the effect.
  • moderate grade: we are moderately confident in the effect estimate. The true effect is likely to be close to the estimate of the effect, but there is a possibility that it is substantially different.
  • A low grade: confidence in the effect estimate is limited. The true effect may be substantially different from the estimate.
  • A very low grade: we have very little confidence in the estimate of the effect. The true effect is likely to be substantially different from the estimate.

For example, randomized trials are initially given a high grade, while observational studies are initially labeled as low quality.

Strength of recommendation

Strength of recommendation is defined as the extent to which one can be confident that the desireable consequences of a recommendation outweigh its undesireable consequences (Andrews et al., 2013). Desirable effects include improved health outcomes, less burden for providers and health systems, and cost savings. Undesirable effects include harm to patients, inconvenience or hassle, and increased resource use.

  • Strong recommendations are made when the desirable effects of a recommended intervention clearly outweigh the undesirable effects (Schunemann et al., 2013). Most informed people would make the recommended choice for an intervention (Andrews et al., 2013).
  • Weak recommendations are made when evidence suggests that desirable effects of a recommended intervention probably outweigh the undesirable effects, but there are small benefits or benefits that may not be worth the costs (Schunemann et al., 2013. While most informed people would choose the recommended course of action, a substantial number would not (Andrews et al., 2013).

Can you have a strong recommendation based on low-quality evidence?

Answer: Yes. There are many factors that influence the strength of a recommendation.

For example, although there is limited evidence about bimanual examination prior to uterine aspiration, several factors increase the strength of the recommendation that bimanual examination should be performed by the clinician who will perform the procedure: 1) the potential benefit to patients, 2) the low risk of harm associated with bimanual examination, and 3) its low cost as well as potential savings when complications are avoided. All or almost all providers and women, when informed of the balance between desireable and undesireable effects, would choose to include a bimanual examination before uterine procedures.

Maintaining the Clinical Updates

The Clinical Updates are revised annually. The “last reviewed” date for each topic indicates all relevant published literature up to that date has been considered and included where appropriate. New topics and proposed revisions to the document come from end-users, a regionally representative Clinical Updates Advisory Group, and observations made during routine quality monitoring of clinical services in Ipas-supported programs. The regionally representative Clinical Advisory Medical Group reviews all updates proposed by the writer and editor. New recommendations or substantially revised recommendations may undergo an internal peer review process. The revision process–including systematic search and review of literature, documentation of the body of evidence, generation and revision of recommendations, and resultant changes to the Clinical Updates in Reproductive Health–is documented and archived.


Andrews, J., Guyatt, G., Oxman, A., Alderson, P., Dahm, P., Falck-Ytter, Y., … Schunemann, H. J. (2013). GRADE Guidelines: 14. Going from evidence to recommendations: The significance and presentation of recommendations. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 66, 719-725.

Balshem, H., Helfand, M., Schunemann, H. J., Oxman, A. D., Kunz, R., Brozek, J., … Guyatt, G. H. (2011). GRADE Guidelines: 3. Rating the quality of the evidence. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 64, 401-406.

Page, M.J., McKenzie, J.E., Bossuyt, P.M., Boutron, I., Hoffman, T.C., Mulrow, C.D., Shamseer, L., Tetzlaff, J.M., Akl, E.A., Brennan, S.E., Chou, R., Glanville, J., Grimshaw, J.M., Hrobjartsson, A., Lalu, M.M., Li, T., Loder, E.W., Mayo-Wilson, E., McDonald, S., McGuinness, L.A., Stewart, L.A., Thomas, J., Tricco, A.C., Welch, V.A., Whiting, P., & Moher, D. (2021). The PRISMA 2020 statement: An updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ, 372, n71.

Schunemann, H., Brozek, J., Guyatt, G., & Oxman, A. (2013). GRADE Handbook. Available at: https://gdt.gradepro.org/app/handbook/handbook.html#h.ged5uqebmir9. Accessed April 15, 2023.

Stroup, D. F., Berlin, J. A., Morton, S. C., Olkin, I., Williamson, G. D., Rennie, D. … for the Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) Group. (2000). Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology: A proposal for reporting. JAMA, 283(15), DOI:10.1001/jama.283.15.2008.

World Health Organization. (2022). Abortion care guideline. Geneva: World Health Organization.