What are abortion pills, how do they work and are they safe? — Dear Pandemic

A: The abortion pill or medical abortion is one of two options for terminating a pregnancy. Medical abortion is extremely safe and effective. It is most effective the earlier you take it in pregnancy.

What they are: The abortion pill is also known as medical abortion. These are two drugs taken during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. They work to stop the pregnancy and empty the uterus. Medical abortion is usually managed at home using a combination of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol.

How they work: A person takes an oral mifepristone pill which blocks the hormone progesterone. This drug prevents pregnancy from developing. Then the person takes misoprostol 24 to 48 hours after the mifepristone. It works to empty the uterus causing cramping and bleeding for several hours like an early miscarriage.

Safety: The abortion pill is very safe and effective. It is most effective (98-99%) in terminating pregnancy if taken within the first 8-9 weeks. If the pregnancy is 9 to 12 weeks, you may need a second dose of misoprostol. If a medical abortion doesn’t work, you may need an aspiration or surgical abortion. Less than 1 in 100 women need additional treatment.

Rare complications are excessive bleeding or infection, but these are almost always treatable with medical care. Having an abortion does not increase your risk of breast cancer, affect your fertility, or cause problems for future pregnancies. The abortion pill is the most common way to abort. Millions of people have used it safely over the past 30 years.

Availability: Most people in the United States have medical abortions at home rather than in a clinic. A July 2020 federal court decision allowed providers to mail abortion pills to their patients. In December 2021, the United States Food and Drug Administration permanently removed all in-person requirements and made it easier for pharmacies to stock drugs.

Medical abortion is also cheaper. Telemedicine abortion pills cost about $150 to $350, compared to the average $500 to $700 for an in-clinic abortion. Funds to help you pay for an abortion are also sometimes available through your local clinic, Planned Parenthood, or through a number of national organizations such as the National Abortion Fund.

Access: With telemedicine, you don’t have to travel to a clinic. A medical professional will interview you and ensure that medical abortion is the right choice for you. They will give you instructions on how to use the medicine and what to expect. They will then order the medications and have them sent to you where you wish to receive them. Or you can pick it up at a pharmacy. The health professional will remain available to answer your questions or if any problem arises during and after the abortion. You should schedule a follow-up visit a week or two later to confirm that you are no longer pregnant.

Since the US Supreme Court struck down abortion rights in June, 14 states have made abortion illegal or imposed strict restrictions. Many women and pregnant people must travel to other states where abortion is legal to end a pregnancy. It is legal to travel out of state to have an abortion. If you live in a state where abortion is banned, there are still options for you. To find out what your options are, call the abortion hotline, Plan C or carafem. See below for how to find help.

Be careful.

Love, those nerdy girls

National Abortion Fund

National Abortion Hotline

Plan C


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