When seeking abortion care, women may sometimes question whether or not they can keep their decision private. Fear, stigma, and legislation around abortion care lead people to wonder if taking an abortion pill makes them visible in any way.
In this article, we'll discuss the abortion pill – and how its use might be discovered by a medical professional – to help you make informed healthcare choices with confidence.
What to understand about medical abortions
The abortion pill is a safe, effective way to have an abortion. It typically involves using two separate medications, mifepristone, and misoprostol, over 48 hours. It is a non-invasive method that allows more women to self-administer abortion pills in the comfort of their homes. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration recently expanded access to abortion care by allowing mifepristone prescriptions to be filled by mail.
The abortion pill can be a highly effective method for ending a pregnancy. While the use of the abortion pill will likely go undetected, it is important to understand when a medical professional may discover it has been taken. This is primarily a concern for women who choose to keep their abortion private for personal or legal reasons
How can a doctor tell you've used an abortion pill?
A doctor can tell if an abortion has occurred when looking for specific signs during a physical examination.
- Symptoms. The doctor might inquire about symptoms associated with abortion, such as bleeding, cramping, and nausea;
- Tests. More invasive tests may be conducted, such as blood tests to detect the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is only present during pregnancy;
- Ultrasound. If an ultrasound is performed, the physician may be able to see physical signs indicative of abortion, such as the size of the uterus or—for incomplete abortions—the remains of the fetus.
However, unless you have stated the use of the abortion pill, or (for vaginal administration) pill remains are observed, a doctor will not distinguish a spontaneous abortion from one managed with the abortion pill.
How to avoid the signs of using the abortion pill?
The clinical presentation of self-managed abortion is indistinguishable from spontaneous abortion – also known as a miscarriage. Unless women mention using the pill to the doctor, or if remains are observed from vaginal insertion, it is not likely your doctor will know for certain. However, much cannot be done to mask the signs of an abortion, especially if you need follow-up care to address medical complications. Women considering the abortion pill must identify how they may access an abortion that is both safe and legal.
While abortion pill procedures are frequently used to terminate pregnancies safely and effectively, women who want to keep an abortion private should understand all related risks and side effects and the state's laws on abortion. Consider reaching out to a reputable clinic or group that understands abortion laws in your state to learn how to safely and legally access medical abortions.
The abortion pill is a safe, effective way for women to terminate a pregnancy.
It is a non-invasive method that can sometimes be used at home, which would appeal to those who desire privacy.
Medical abortions are indistinguishable from spontaneous abortions; however, medical abortions may be discovered if pill remains are observed after vaginal administration.
Always consider contacting a reputable clinic or group that understands abortion laws and has qualified medical professionals to administer the abortion pill in your state.
How do abortion pills work?
Abortion pills are a safe way of ending a pregnancy. The abortion pill is two medications taken in two steps. The first pill, mifepristone, blocks the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for a pregnancy to grow and develop. This stops the development of the fetus. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken one to two days after the first pill and induces cramping and bleeding that expels the fetus from the uterus. When abortion pills are taken as directed, they are just as safe—if not safer—than alternative abortion methods.
What to expect when taking an abortion pill?
People using an abortion pill may experience physical side effects such as cramping, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, heavy bleeding, and headaches. These symptoms are generally manageable with medications as recommended by a medical professional. An abortion may be complete in just a few hours after medication administration for first-trimester pregnancies. Typically, a follow-up appointment is recommended to ensure the abortion has been successful.
What are the risks associated with taking an abortion pill?
The medical risks of the abortion pill include incomplete abortions, infections, or sepsis. However, the safety of the pill surpasses that of over-the-counter medications, with less than 0.5% experiencing major complications. The legal risk is most significant, particularly in states where abortion is limited or banned. Women considering an abortion must be informed of their rights to access it.
What to do if you've taken the abortion pill and need medical help?
If you've taken an abortion pill and need medical help, it is critical to seek assistance immediately. Prompt medical attention is essential to reduce any health risks associated with the abortion pill. However, the use of the abortion pill may not be identified unless you mention having taken it or the pill remains are observed after vaginal administration.
- Journal of general internal medicine. Medication to Manage Abortion and Miscarriage.
- New England Journal of Medicine. Complications of Unsafe and Self-Managed Abortion.
- Oxford Academic. Human Reproduction.
- The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. Post-abortion Complications: A Narrative Review for Emergency Clinicians.
- US Food and Drug Administration. Information about Mifepristone for Medical Termination of Pregnancy Through Ten Weeks Gestation.
- Obstetrics and gynecology. Incidence of emergency department visits and complications after abortion.