Medication Abortion FAQs

Medication Abortion, also known as non-surgical abortion, is one way for women to terminate early pregnancies. Please see Medication vs. Surgical Abortion for a comparison of the two techniques.

Women can terminate early pregnancies (first trimester) with a medication or a combination of medications. At the Comprehensive Women’s Health Center, the medications we prescribe for medication abortion are Mifeprex (Mifepristone) and Misoprostol (Cytotec).

Medication Abortion Drugs

What is Mifepristone (also known as “Mifeprex” or “RU-486”)?

Mifepristone blocks the action of the natural hormone progesterone on the uterus. This causes the lining of the uterus to shed as it does during a period and stops the growth of the pregnancy. A medication abortion results when mifepristone is combined with misoprostol.

What is Misoprostol (also known as “Cytotec”)?

Misoprostol is a drug that is used with mifepristone for medication abortion. It causes the uterus to contract, pushing out the pregnancy. Misoprostol also causes bleeding and cramping.

About Medication Abortion

How does medication abortion work?

Medication abortion involves at least two visits to a doctor’s office or clinic. The treatment includes giving the medication and then confirming that the pregnancy termination was successful. Sometimes more than two visits are necessary.

Day 1: Office visit for exam and counseling; take 200 mg (1 tablet) of mifepristone.
Day 2, 3, or 4: At home, place four tablets of misoprostol in your vagina.
Day 7 – 14: Final visit to the office to confirm that the abortion is complete via ultrasound.

If the abortion is not complete, follow-up visits may be scheduled.

What’s the difference between a medication abortion and the “morning-after pill”?

Medication abortion is not the same as emergency contraception (EC), also called the “morning after pill.” Emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy from occuring. Once pregnancy has occurred, EC is no longer effective. When a pregnancy has occurred, medication abortion is used to terminate the unwanted pregnancy.

When can a woman have a medication abortion?

Medication abortion can be performed from the time a woman suspects and confirms that she is pregnant up to nine weeks from her last menstrual period. Some insurance companies limit coverage of medication abortion to pregnancies of seven weeks or less.

Is medication abortion effective?

In clinical practice, medication abortion is about 95 percent to 98 percent effective. This means that the medications cause the woman to completely pass the pregnancy without the use of surgery. Early surgical abortion, usually done by aspiration, is effective 98 percent of the time.

Safety and Efficacy

Is medication abortion safe?

Mifepristone has been studied for over twenty years. Millions of women in more than 20 countries (including the U.S.) have used mifepristone and misoprostol (or similar medications) to have an abortion. All studies have shown the method to be safe and effective. There have been no reports of any long-term risks. Heavy bleeding requiring blood transfusion is extremely rare (less than 0.5 percent).

What are the usual side effects of a medication abortion?

Short-term side effects may include:

  • Strong cramps
  • Bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever and chills

There is no evidence of long-term risks with mifepristone when used for medication abortion. No long-term effects have been associated with misoprostol.

Have there ever been any serious complications with medication abortion?

In more than 20 years of use, the risk of death by using medication abortion is less than one in 100,000 women, making it one of the safest medications available. In a large U.S. research trial, only four of the 2,000 women (less than 0.5 percent) required any treatment as serious as a blood transfusion.

Does early abortion affect a woman’s future fertility?

There are no indications that any of the early abortion methods affect a woman’s fertility.

Do medication abortion drugs cause fetal deformities?

Little is known about the effect of mifepristone on a developing embryo. Misoprostol has been associated with birth defects when given in early pregnancy. Therefore, a woman should have a surgical abortion if a medication abortion fails.

Access to Medication Abortion

Where can a woman get a medication abortion?

Medication abortion is provided by trained health care providers in private office settings, family planning clinics, and hospitals.

How much does a medication abortion cost?

Cost varies by clinic. Some providers charge similar rates for medication and surgical. Some insurance companies will cover the cost of a medical abortion (usually only if they would cover a surgical abortion). The Comprehensive Women’s Health Center offers a self-payment option for both medical and surgical abortion.

Where can I get more information about medication abortion?

*Different clinics have different protocols for medication abortion. Read our Pre-Procedure Information to find out how and why our protocol differs from that described by other clinics and websites.

If you are interested in a medication abortion, or have questions about other options, contact us for an appointment.