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“I’ll just deal with this on my own”: a qualitative exploration of experiences with self-managed abortion in the United States



A growing body of evidence indicates that some people seek options to terminate a pregnancy without medical assistance, but experiences doing so have largely been documented only among people accessing a clinic-based abortion. We aim to describe self-managed abortion (SMA) experiences of people recruited outside of clinics, including their motivations for SMA, pregnancy confirmation and decision-making processes, method choices, and clinical outcomes.


In 2017, we conducted 14 in-depth interviews with self-identified females of reproductive age who recently reported in an online survey administered to Ipsos' KnowledgePanel that, since 2000, they had attempted SMA while living in the United States. We asked participants about their reproductive histories, experiences seeking reproductive health care, and SMA experiences. We used an iterative process to develop codes and analyzed transcripts using thematic content analysis methods.


Motivations and perceptions of effectiveness varied by whether participants had confirmed the pregnancy prior to SMA. Participants who confirmed their pregnancies chose SMA because it was convenient, accessible, and private. Those who did not test for pregnancy were motivated by a preference for autonomy and felt empowered by the ability to try something on their own before seeking facility-based care. Participants prioritized methods that were safe and available, though not always effective. Most used herbs or over-the-counter medications; none used self-sourced abortion medications, mifepristone and/or misoprostol. Five participants obtained facility-based abortions and one participant decided to continue the pregnancy after attempting SMA. The remaining eight reported being no longer pregnant after SMA. None of the participants sought care for  SMA complications; one participant saw a provider to confirm abortion completion.


There are many types of SMA experiences. In addition to those who pursue SMA as a last resort (after facing barriers to facility-based care) or as a first resort (because they prefer homeopathic remedies), our findings show that some individuals view SMA as a potential interim step worth trying after suspecting pregnancy and before accessing facility-based care. These people in particular would benefit from a medication abortion product available over the counter, online, or in the form of a missed-period pill.

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