Medication abortion accounts for up to 60 percent of all abortions completed before 10 weeks gestation. It’s a two-step process that involves two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol.
Mifepristone is the only drug impacted by the recent court ruling in Texas.
Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, was developed in the 1980s and approved by the FDA in 2000.
The drug blocks a natural hormone, progesterone, needed to support a pregnancy.
Mifepristone is the first drug given in the two-drug regimen used for medication abortion.
Twenty-four to forty-eight hours after patients take the dose of mifepristone, they take a second medication, misoprostol, which helps the body evacuate the pregnancy. In other words, the patient experiences contractions, cramping and bleeding as the uterus empties its contents.
Mifepristone is also used to treat patients who experience pregnancy loss. For example, in cases of early miscarriage, mifepristone is given to help the uterus contract and clear the lost pregnancy.
The two-drug regimen, which is 93 to 99 percent effective depending on how early in the pregnancy it is administered, can be prescribed by any women’s healthcare provider, including a primary care provider.
The first medication, mifepristone, is usually given during an office or telehealth visit. Patients typically take the second medication, misoprostol, at home.
Currently, there is no pending legislation or restrictions involving misoprostol, a drug also used to treat gastric ulcers.
Is mifepristone the same as the morning-after pill?
It’s not the “morning-after” pill or Plan B, which is emergency contraception designed to prevent a pregnancy, not terminate pregnancy.
When can mifepristone be administered?
The two-drug regimen can be administered up to 77 days gestation (11 weeks) for a medical abortion.
After that timeframe, a procedural abortion would be necessary to terminate a pregnancy.
An abortion procedure takes place in a clinic or medical setting.
What if mifepristone is not available?
If care providers don’t have access to mifepristone, misoprostol alone can be used for a medical abortion; however, misoprostol alone may not be as effective — the patient may require more doses, which means the possibility of more side effects (including low-grade fever and gastrointestinal symptoms) and a longer treatment process.
Possible side effects and safety concerns
Less than one percent risk for serious complications that include infection and heavy bleeding.
The content was reviewed for accuracy by Rush University Medical Center OB-GYN Dr. Sadia Haider.