Safety, efficacy, and acceptability of medical abortion in China, Cuba, and India: a comparative trial of mifepristone-misoprostol versus surgical abortion

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1997 Feb;176(2):431-7. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9378(97)70511-8.


Objective: We investigated safety, efficacy, and acceptability of an oral regimen of medical abortion compared with surgical abortion in three developing countries.

Study design: Women (n = 1373) with amenorrhea < or = 56 days chose either surgical abortion (as provided routinely) or 600 mg of mifepristone followed after 48 hours by 400 micrograms of misoprostol. This is the appropriate design for studying safety, efficacy, and acceptability among women selecting medical abortion over available surgical services.

Results: The medical regimen had more side effects, particularly bleeding, than did surgical abortion but very few serious side effects. Failure rates for medical abortion, although low, exceeded those for surgical abortion: 8.6% versus 0.4% (China), 16.0% versus 4.0% (Cuba), and 5.2% versus 0% (India). Nearly half of failures among medical clients were not true drug failures, however, but surgical interventions not medically necessary (acceptability failures or misdiagnoses). Women were satisfied with either method, but more preferred medical abortion.

Conclusion: Medical abortion can be safe, efficacious, and acceptable in developing countries.

PIP: A multi-center comparative study of medical compared to surgical abortion confirmed that medical abortion can be safe, effective, and acceptable in developing countries. A total of 1373 women from medical centers in China, Cuba, and India with pregnancies of 56 days' gestation or less were given the choice of surgical abortion or 600 mg of mifepristone followed after 48 hours by 400 mcg of misoprostol. Since the majority selected medical abortion, researchers in China and Cuba assigned some of these women to the surgical group to equalize the size of the two groups. The surgical abortion failure rates in China, Cuba, and India were 0.4%, 4%, and 0%, respectively, while the failure rates for medical abortion were 8.6%, 16.0%, and 5.2%, respectively. In all sites, both medical failures (an adverse effect resulting in a medically indicated surgical intervention) and acceptability failures (failure to complete the entire regimen) contributed substantially to the gross failure rates for medical abortion. Medical abortion failure rates increased with gestational age. Although cramping, nausea, and vomiting were more frequent among women in the medical abortion group and bleeding was heavier, general assessments of well-being reported at exit interviews did not differ between the two treatment groups at any site. Regardless of abortion method, the majority of women were either satisfied or highly satisfied with the procedure. In all countries, a higher number of medical than surgical abortion patients indicated they would opt again for the same procedure. Neither the bleeding pattern nor the higher failure rate associated with medical abortion justify withholding this option from women in developing countries.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortifacient Agents*
  • Abortion, Induced / adverse effects
  • Abortion, Induced / methods*
  • Adult
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Mifepristone*
  • Misoprostol*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Patient Participation
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment
  • Treatment Failure


  • Abortifacient Agents
  • Misoprostol
  • Mifepristone