In June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion rights in the US for nearly 50 years. As a result, many states now have laws banning abortion, including access to “abortion pills,” which creates a challenge for American women.
The use of medication to induce abortions is on the rise – according to the Guttmacher Institute, medication abortions accounted for more than 50% of abortions in 2020, up from 39% in 2017.
This article will explore the mechanism of action of the available abortion pills – meaning how they work in a woman’s body and on the developing fetus.
What is the abortion pill?
The “abortion pill,” as it is commonly known in the United States, refers to the use of two prescription-only medications — mifepristone and misoprostol. In general, medication-induced abortions are used in the early stages of pregnancy, defined as up to 70 days, or 10 weeks, after the first day of your last menstrual period.
Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which manages the lining of the uterus. The uterus is where the fetus develops and without progesterone the fetus does not have a lining in which to thrive.
Misoprostol, the second medication, is taken at the same time as or up to 48 hours after the dose of mifepristone. Misoprostol causes the emptying of the uterus. The process is compared to a crampy menstrual period, and it mimics a miscarriage.
Effectiveness of medication-induced abortions
Medication-induced abortion is remarkably effective in ending an early pregnancy – it is effecive approximately 95% of the time. The use of medication-induced abortion gives patients the option to end their pregnancy at home or in another setting in which they feel comfortable, while still providing them with the medical support and information they need.
The World Health Organization has concluded that misoprostol alone, taken in certain doses, can be used safely and effectively to end an early pregnancy in situations where the combination of both mifepristone and misoprostol is not available. Misoprostol only is less effective than the joint mifepristone/misoprostol regimen. In the United States, the FDA-approved regimen is for patients to take both mifepristone and misoprostol.
Potential Side Effects
Be sure to tell all your healthcare providers if you take the abortion pill. This includes your doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists. Read all of the advisory information provided by your pharmacy.
Although rare, the abortion pill may have severe or deadly side effects for some people.. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience hives, shortness of breath, severe vaginal bleeding, fast heartbeat, or any other unusual symptoms after taking medication.
Normal side effects of the abortion pill include headache, pelvic pain, dizziness, and vomiting. Again, please read all advisory literature provided with the prescription.
The choice to take the “abortion pill” is a personal choice for each individual. It is important to be informed and educated when making any medical decision.
When taken early in pregnancy, the “abortion pill” is highly effective.
“The abortion pill” consists of two medications: mifepristone and misoprostol. When taken together they block progesterone and prevent the lining of the uterus from growing, then dispel the contents of the uterus.
Always notify your primary care provider if you choose to take these medications.
Guttmacher Institute. Medication Abortion Now Accounts for More Than Half of All US Abortions