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What Is The Abortion Pill and How Does It Work?

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There can be many questions surrounding the process of medication-induced abortions (also known as pharmaceutical abortions), such as those provided by the abortion pill.

Organizations across the country are committed to providing safe and honest information. Below, we answer the most common questions about the abortion pill—what it is, who can take it, how it works, how safe it is, and how to obtain it.

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How Does the Abortion Pill Work?

What’s commonly referred to as the “abortion pill” is actually two different medications that work together to end a pregnancy. Typically, these are given one to two days apart. The first drug is mifepristone, which causes the embryo to separate from the uterine wall by inhibiting the hormone progesterone. The second medication is misoprostol, taken a day or two after the first pill, and comes in a four-tablet dose. Misoprostol works by inducing cramping, which then empties the uterus. The experience has been compared to having a very heavy period.

At one time, mifepristone was administered in a doctor’s office. FDA requirement changes now allow it to be taken at home, although, in many cases, people still take it while at a clinic or doctor’s office.

As for actual drug administration, mifepristone is taken orally with a little water—much like any other pill. The four misoprostol pills, however, are taken differently. The tablets can be inserted within the vagina where they dissolve, or they can be dissolved inside the mouth by placing all four under the tongue or held in the lower cheek for about 30 minutes. If the pregnancy is nine weeks or less, the misoprostol can be administered right after the mifepristone. If the pregnancy is later than nine weeks, there will need to be a 24 to 48-hour wait before taking the misoprostol.

The FDA has given the abortion pill approval to end pregnancies up to 11 weeks. Pregnancies that are longer than that may require an in-clinic procedure.

Who Can Take the Abortion Pill?

Medication abortion is a safe and common method for ending first-trimester pregnancies up to 11 weeks. Abortion pills work regardless of weight. If an IUD is present, it should be removed before taking abortion pills.

Note that some states require people under 18 to obtain parental consent or a judge’s permission. Ectopic pregnancies should be discussed with a qualified healthcare provider as they will likely require a clinical termination.

Does the Abortion Pill Work?

According to statistics from Planned Parenthood, the vast majority of people who choose to end their pregnancies with the abortion pill are successful. In some rare situations—such as a later pregnancy—an additional dose of misoprostol tablets may be required to complete the abortion. Your healthcare provider can give you more information if needed.

In general, administering mifepristone and misoprostol is 98% effective if taken up to 8 weeks into a pregnancy. For eight to nine weeks, it’s 96% effective, and for nine to ten weeks, it’s 93% effective with a single dose of misoprostol and 99% effective with a second dose.

What Are the Effects of Taking the Abortion Pill?

Each of the two types of drugs used has a distinct function—each with a different bodily impact.

  • Mifepristone – Many people don’t experience any changes following the first dose. While some people experience mild nausea or begin bleeding, most can carry on with their day as usual.
  • Misoprostol – This medication’s primary function is to shed the uterine lining, which results in cramping and bleeding that typically starts one to four hours after administration. Some people compare this experience to a regular period; others report nausea, severe cramps, and heavier bleeding than usual. If the latter experience occurs, a doctor could prescribe an anti-nausea drug to take along with ibuprofen. (Avoid taking aspirin or anything else known as a blood thinner as that may increase bleeding.)

Patients should plan to take a day or two off to help manage the heavier cramps and bleeding. After taking misoprostol, it’s typical to see larger-than-usual tissue or blood clot clusters. Patients should use feminine hygiene pads instead of tampons or menstrual cups.

Light bleeding and spotting may continue for three weeks after a medication-induced abortion. Cramps can last several days before lessening.

Patients should follow up with their doctor to ensure the pregnancy has ended. Alternatively, a telehealth physician can inform you when to take a home pregnancy test or get a follow-up ultrasound.

Is the Abortion Pill Safe?

The abortion pill is safe and has a lower hospitalization rate than Tylenol, penicillin, and Viagra. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, exhaustion, and a 100-degree temperature are common abortion pill side effects.

The only time patients may need to seek medical assistance is if they have a fever of 101 degrees or higher or a bad-smelling vaginal discharge. These could be indicators of an infection.

Abortion drugs are meant to produce bleeding, but medical treatment should be sought if the patient soaks through two thick maxi pads within two hours. Additional misoprostol or a vacuum aspiration can treat blood loss. It is highly recommended you speak to a healthcare provider at a free women’s clinic or other healthcare facility to help you navigate your pregnancy decisions, and possibly change your mind about having an abortion and choosing life.

How Can the Abortion Pill Be Obtained?

The abortion pill can only be purchased via a doctor, nurse, health clinic, or Planned Parenthood health center. Costs can be up to $750 but, depending on health insurance access, could be obtained for less or possibly for free.

In December 2021, the FDA ruled to permanently allow abortion pills by mail, meaning pregnant patients who can’t access care in person can have a telehealth appointment with a clinician who can prescribe abortion pills and deliver them by mail. Since the FDA decision, 22 states have submitted bills to restrict pharmaceutical abortions, including restricting the shipment of abortion pills or requiring in-person dispensing.

Patients should check local laws. Some factors to consider include pregnancy length, patient age, ultrasound or in-clinic requirements, and waiting periods. Obtaining abortion pills online to avoid these restrictions is an option, but there could be legal risks.

Is Pharmaceutical Abortion Detectable?

Abortion pills don’t appear in blood or lab tests. Additionally, there is no medical reason a patient must disclose they have accessed medication-induced abortion. The abortion pill functions in a manner very similar to a common miscarriage.

For More Information

Heartbeat of Toledo is committed to providing women with the best health and prenatal care available.

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