Monday, August 11, 2014 | News

Can midlevel providers administer medical abortion as safely as physicians?

there is strong evidence that trained midlevel providers such as
nurses, midwives and clinical officers can provide first-trimester
medical abortion as safely and effectively as physicians. Backed by this
evidence, health-care system managers and policymakers increasingly
support expanding the provider base to include non-physician providers
as a way to increase women’s access to safe medical abortion care.

“Midwives, nurses and clinical officers
have terrific experience in delivering women’s health care, whether
through assisting women with labor and delivery, helping women use
contraception, or giving women access to gynecologic care,” says Dr.
Alice Mark, Ipas senior advisor for clinical affairs. “By increasing
their training and skills to include safe abortion care, they can
provide abortion as safely and sensitively as doctors and are often more
available to women who need care.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2012 publication Safe abortion: Technical and policy guidance for health systems,
“Abortion care can be safely provided by any properly trained
health-care provider, including midlevel (i.e. non-physician) providers.
Abortion care provided at the primary-care level and through outpatient
services in higher-level settings is safe, and minimizes costs while
maximizing the convenience and timeliness of care for the woman.”
Task-shifting to other cadres of providers is a WHO-recommended strategy
to improve access to contraception and other vital maternal and newborn
health services and should be broadly considered for abortion care as

Ipas’s January 2014 edition of Clinical Updates in Reproductive Health summarizes the evidence on midlevel providers safely providing medical abortion:

  • A randomized control trial of 1,104 women seeking abortion at less than nine weeks gestation in Nepal compared the efficacy and safety of medical abortion when performed by either physicians or nurses and auxiliary nurse midwives. The women in both groups had equivalent rates of successful abortion (96.7 percent overall), which is defined as not requiring manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) within 30 days of treatment. The study, published in 2011 in The Lancet, also found no serious complications reported in either group of women.
  • A prospective cohort study of 1,414 Indian women seeking abortion up to eight weeks gestation compared the safety and efficacy of medical abortion when it was performed by three groups of providers: allopathic physicians, ayurvedic (traditional) physicians, and nurses. The providers in this study, published in 2012 in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, were newly trained in medical abortion and had not been doing pelvic examination or vacuum aspiration previously. The women in all provider groups had equivalent rates of successful abortions (95 percent overall). The accuracy of the providers’ gestational age assessment and determination of abortion success was similar across all groups, and no women in the study had serious complications.

Because many women can’t seek care from
doctors because of cost, geography, or a shortage of providers, training
and supporting midwives, nurses and clinical officers can increase
women’s ability to access safe services in their own communities.

Looking forward: Ipas
is committed to expanding the evidence base around who can safely
administer medical abortion, including pharmacists and women themselves.

Midwives’ support for abortion care grows

The International
Confederation of Midwives (ICM) has long supported midwives providing
abortion care—and that support is growing.

ICM made clear its support for abortion care in a 2008 position statement:
“The education of midwives should include training … in providing
abortion-related services that ensure safety and well-being for the

In June 2014 at ICM’s 30th International Triennial Congress, abortion care featured prominently in midwives’ discussion of their efforts to reduce maternal mortality. And the 2014 edition of The State of the World’s Midwifery
report articulates a vision of abortion and postabortion care
integrated into the full continuum of care—from sexual and reproductive
health through pregnancy, birth and postnatal care.

As young Jamaican midwife Victoria Melhado says in her poem “We are midwives,” which won her an award in the Ipas Young Midwife Contest: “We give competent and nonjudgmental care… we empathize with and empower our women.”

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

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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.

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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.


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