A medication abortion is the termination of a pregnancy using a drug or combination of drugs. Most often the abortion is induced using the drug mifepristone, sometimes referred to as the abortion pill or RU-486. Methotrexate is another medication sometimes used for abortion. This medication is more commonly used outside of the United States. A medication abortion can be performed as soon as a woman knows she is pregnant, but is usually not performed after the ninth week of pregnancy.
A medication abortion is effective in ending 97 out of 100 pregnancies. As the drugs used to induce the abortion can cause serious birth defects if the pregnancy is allowed to continue, in the case of a failed medication abortion a surgical abortion is recommended. Following the administration of the medication, the woman should have a follow-up examination with her physician or other health care professional to ensure that the termination was successful.
In most instances, the woman will need to have laboratory tests conducted and have an ultrasound before the medication is administered. No anesthesia is necessary for a medication abortion. The doctor will give the woman a pill to take at the clinic. This pill, mifepristone, will block progesterone, which will cause the lining of the uterus to begin breaking down and end the pregnancy.
About three days later, the woman will be given a second medication, misoprostol. Besides being used as part of abortion, misoprostol is used for inducing miscarriage when the fetus has died and for inducing labor. This medication will empty the uterus, and the woman can expect heavy bleeding and cramps within a few hours to a few days of taking the drug.
Bleeding and cramping are the most normal side effects of a medication abortion. The woman may also feel dizzy, nauseous, and have some abdominal pain. In some instances, the abortion may cause mild fever and chilling. Unusual but possible side effects include an allergic reaction to one of the drugs used in a medication abortion. Infection, undetected ectopic pregnancy, or an incomplete abortion are also rare but possible complications.
Medication abortion has some advantages over surgical abortion. Many women consider the process to be more private and less invasive physically. It’s also often less expensive than surgical abortions. There is no evidence that it has a long-term effect on a woman’s health.