What is the abortion pill? How does it work?
Many factors can influence whether ending a pregnancy is the right decision for you. What do you do if you’d like to terminate a pregnancy? If you’ve been pregnant for less than 11 weeks, you can choose to have a medical abortion by using the abortion pill. We’ll go over how you can get the abortion pill, how it works, and what to expect from the process.
What is the abortion pill called?
A medical abortion usually uses two medications to terminate a pregnancy. The most common type of medical abortion uses mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol (Cytotec) taken orally. It’s a bit of a misnomer to call it the abortion pill. You take the two medications at different times.
How can you get the abortion pill?
You can have a medical abortion at home, in a medical office, or at a clinic. If you opt to go through the process at home, make sure to monitor for any complications and remember to follow up with your primary care provider.
Regulations around getting the abortion pill may differ depending on where you live. Local laws might restrict your access to the abortion pill. Whether you can use an abortion pill to terminate your pregnancy may also depend on your medical history, overall health, and how far along you are in the pregnancy.
Before beginning the process, your primary care provider might give a physical exam and an ultrasound. Gain an understanding of the entire process from how it works to the aftercare. Knowing the risks can help you decide whether the abortion pill is right for you.
How does the abortion pill work?
Mifepristone is taken first, usually at a medical office or clinic. This medication stops the developing pregnancy by blocking progesterone, preventing the maintenance of the pregnancy. Misoprostol is taken hours, even days later, usually at home. Misoprostol causes uterine contractions, leading to your body expelling the embryo.
To prevent infection, the doctor will also prescribe antibiotics. The entire process should take days, though bleeding may continue for a few weeks. Make sure to follow up with your primary care provider.
The abortion pill is not recommended for you if:
- You have an IUD
- You’re allergic to anything in the medication
- You’re too far along in your pregnancy (past 11 weeks), or the pregnancy is ectopic (meaning that is implanted outside of the uterus)
- You’re taking certain medications, including blood thinners and some steroids You have certain conditions, including some kidney, liver, lung, or heart diseases
- You don’t have access to your doctor (for follow-up visits) or emergency care
What to expect after taking the abortion pill
A medical abortion can cause vaginal bleeding and abdominal cramps. Potential side effects include headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and chills. The amount of pain and blood may vary. It depends on how far along the pregnancy is. Speak with your primary care provider for a better idea of what you should expect. Possible risks include:
- Heavy bleeding for a prolonged time
- Diarrhea and discomfort with the digestive system
- Infection or fever Incomplete abortion or failure in which pregnancy continues or requires surgery
- Blood clots in your uterus
You may need medical attention if you experience:
- Odorous vaginal discharge
- Severe abdominal or back pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking multiple pads every hour for at least two hours)
- Fever lasting over 24 hours
Follow up with your primary care provider after going through the medical abortion process to ensure that you are healing properly. You will most likely need to take it easy for a few weeks and should avoid vaginal sex for at least a week, though recovery time may vary.
Before having sex again, it may be worth discussing your birth control options with your primary care provider. Your period might not return to normal for four to eight weeks (one or 2 cycles). If you don’t get a period within this time, take a pregnancy test.
More about the abortion pill
Circumstances leading to the decision to terminate a pregnancy can vary for each person. Reasons why someone might consider the abortion pill include:
- The risk of passing on an inheritable disease
- To end an unwanted pregnancy
- To complete an early miscarriage If carrying through with the pregnancy is dangerous to your health
Benefits to choosing the abortion pill to terminate your pregnancy include:
- You can end the pregnancy at home (and keep your support system with you in the process)
- You can use the abortion pill early in pregnancy (as soon as pregnancy is confirmed, up to 11 weeks after your last period)
- It can feel more natural and is less invasive than other abortion procedures (no surgery or anesthesia necessary)