Abortion Pills and Medical Abortion Facts

Medications to end a pregnancy usually involve two drugs: mifepristone (Mifeprex, RU-486, “the abortion pill”) and misoprostol (Cytotec). Mifepristone stops progesterone, a hormone needed to maintain pregnancy. Misoprostol tells the uterus to contract to empty its contents. Cervical dilation (opening) also occurs at this time, allowing tissue to be pushed out of the uterus. Medications are taken 24-48 hours apart.

A medical abortion can be performed up to 11 weeks from the first day of your last period, according to Planned Parenthood, although some insurers only cover the cost for up to seven weeks.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of abortion pills for up to 10 weeks. A small study found that medical abortion was effective for women between 13 and 15 weeks of pregnancy, but the researchers called for more studies on this topic.

Many physicians will recommend medical abortion no later than 10 weeks as an outpatient; later this can be done in a supervised hospital so that health practitioners can monitor the condition of the pregnant person.

If you do not know how long it has been since the first day of your last period, you can ask your health care provider to offer you a pregnancy test and an ultrasound to determine the age of the fetus and your options.

If you’re concerned about cost, check with your health insurer for their policy on medical abortion.

According to Planned Parenthood, the effectiveness of a medical abortion varies depending on how far along the pregnancy is:

  • For someone 8 weeks or less pregnant, it is effective in 94 to 98 out of 100 people.
  • For someone 8-9 weeks pregnant, it is effective in 94-96 out of 100 people.
  • For a person 9-10 weeks pregnant, it is effective in about 91-93 out of 100 people. If an extra dose of medication is taken, as directed by a healthcare professional, it is effective in 99 out of 100 people .
  • For someone 10 to 11 weeks pregnant, it is effective in about 87 out of 100 people; with additional medications, it is effective in about 98 out of 100 people.

A medical abortion can take up to a full day. If that doesn’t work, talk to your provider about additional medication or a surgical abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, taking medication to end a pregnancy is safe, effective, private, and convenient.

A medical abortion can cause you to feel tired and crampy for about a day, with bleeding and spotting occurring for some time afterward. You can return to work, school, and normal activities the next day after the abortion is over, but avoid hard work or strenuous exercise for a few days.

Is medical abortion the same as emergency contraception?

Medical abortion is not emergency contraception. Medical abortion terminates a pregnancy, defined as the implantation of an embryo into the uterine lining. Emergency contraception, taken up to five days after sex, prevents pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation or, in some cases, preventing sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg, according to the US Office of Women’s Health.

RELATED: Basic Facts About Emergency Contraception

How to Get a Medical Abortion

With the growth of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have discovered that it is safe and effective to have medical abortion at home. Depending on your state’s laws and provider policies, you can also get a prescription for medications needed for a medical abortion from a health care provider, who may ask you to come into the office to take the medications. If your provider wants to see you in person, you will take the medications in the office and then come back to the office later to confirm that the procedure was successful.

The following resources can help you find more information about medical abortion:

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