Journal Article

Effectiveness, safety and acceptability of medical abortion at home versus in the clinic: A systematic review and meta-analysis in response to COVID-19

Background
Increased access to home-based medical abortion may offer women a convenient, safe and effective abortion method, reduce burdens on healthcare systems and support social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home-based medical abortion is defined as any abortion where mifepristone, misoprostol or both medications are taken at home.

Methods
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and non-randomised studies (NRSs) were conducted. We searched databases from inception to 10 July 2019 and 14 June 2020. Successful abortion was the main outcome of interest. Eligible studies were RCTs and NRSs studies with a concurrent comparison group comparing home versus clinic-based medical abortion. Risk ratios (RRs) and their 95% CIs were calculated. Estimates were calculated using a random-effects model. We used the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach to assess risk of bias by outcome and to evaluate the overall quality of the evidence.

Results
We identified 6277 potentially eligible published studies. Nineteen studies (3 RCTs and 16 NRSs) were included with 11 576 women seeking abortion up to 9 weeks gestation. Neither the RCTs nor the NRS found any difference between home-based and clinic-based administration of medical abortion in having a successful abortion (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.01, I2=0%; RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.01, I2=52%, respectively). The certainty of the evidence for the 16 NRSs was downgraded from low to very low due to high risk of bias and publication bias. The certainty of the evidence for the three RCTs was downgraded from high to moderate by one level for high risk of bias.

Conclusion
Home-based medical abortion is effective, safe and acceptable to women. This evidence should be used to expand women’s abortion options and ensure access to abortion for women during COVID-19 and beyond.