You’ve probably heard of the abortion pill. A lot of people talk about it… you accidentally end up pregnant, take a pill, have a heavy period, and it’s over, right?
Well, there’s actually a little bit more to it.
Here at A Woman’s Choice, we get asked a lot about the abortion pill, so we wanted to answer the top four questions about the pill’s side effects and how it works.
The first thing you need to know about the abortion pill is that it only works for women who are pregnant up to 10 weeks (70 days after the first day of your last menstrual period),1 so before a patient can get the pill, she needs to know how far along she is.
She can find out through an ultrasound at a healthcare clinic or a free provider like A Woman’s Choice in Lakeland. Next, she’ll have to visit a healthcare provider to have the pills prescribed. If the patient has an intrauterine device (IUD), it will have to be removed before beginning the regimen.
The entire abortion process usually takes a couple of weeks from start to finish, including a follow-up visit to the doctor’s office to make sure everything worked. If it didn’t, more visits will be needed.
Even though it’s called the abortion PILL, a medical abortion is actually a series of several pills—usually five.
Here’s how the process works:
First you take a medication called mifepristone (also called by it’s brand name Mifeprex) —it’s one pill and is usually taken right there in the healthcare clinic when the doctor prescribes it. This pill blocks progesterone to stop a pregnancy from growing. But the process is not over yet, the pregnancy still has to be removed.
The second medicine is called misoprostol. This medication is four tablets that are taken at home up to 48 hours after the first pill. It will cause significant cramping and bleeding to expel the pregnancy.
After taking both medications, the pregnancy is typically ended and passed from the uterus within 2 to 48 hours.
Some women take the abortion pill because they feel it will be easier to have their abortion at home, but there are still a couple in-clinic appointments that can’t be avoided.
First, it’s really important to get these pills in person from a licensed healthcare provider at a clinic. You might have seen them advertised online, but those are not FDA-approved and might be ineffective, counterfeit, tainted, and unsafe.2,3 And unlike Plan B/the morning after pill (which only works 5 days after sex), it’s not available over the counter.
And second, patients must return to the health center for a follow up appointment two weeks later to have an exam or ultrasound to confirm that the abortion was successful and there aren’t any complications.4
The level of pain can really vary from woman to woman, but there are expected symptoms that nearly everyone will experience. Heavy cramping and bleeding is the main thing. 80%–90% of women report bleeding more heavily than they do during a heavy period—this is how the body expels the pregnancy.
These other common symptoms can last for about 2 to 4 weeks after the abortion5:
Most of these effects can be managed from home with prescription and over the counter medications (doctors usually prescribe anti nausea and pain killers with the abortion pill). However, there are some less common side effects that mean a patient needs to see the doctor 6,7:
One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that there are also emotional side effects to watch out for that are actually more common than these physical effects. While the physical pain can be relatively immediate, emotional and psychological effects may appear later and last longer, everything from mild regret to more serious complications like depression.
The American Pregnancy Association, says that the common negative feelings include:
“In addition, some people may experience grief, stress, or a sense of loss and may feel less able to cope. If suicidal thoughts or self-harm occur, the person should seek urgent help.
In most cases, as time passes, these negative feelings will subside.
However, if there are additional issues, such as a sense of isolation or previous history of mental health problems, there may be a higher chance of depression occurring.”9
As with all things, there are risks. It is important to be aware of them.
The abortion pill is about 98% effective at ending a pregnancy (depending on how early it’s taken).10 But as we mentioned earlier, sometimes the pill won’t work and with all serious procedures, things can go wrong.
Here are some of the worst case scenarios:
Serious side effects requiring medical intervention, including bacterial infection (which can be fatal), excessive bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and severe cramping.
Hemorrhage and infection are the leading cause of abortion-related disease and death from mifepristone.11
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of 24 mifepristone-related deaths of women and 97 ectopic pregnancies since 2000, when the drug was approved. More than 750 women have been hospitalized, more than 400 women have experienced blood loss requiring transfusions, and 308 had infections requiring treatment.12
Fatal toxic shock is possible following chemical abortions with mifepristone and misoprostol.13
Again, these are rare complications, but very real. Abortions should never be administered without medical supervision.
The total cost depends on factors that are different in each woman’s situation, but in Florida the average cost for the abortion pill is between $500 and $62514. Although surgery sounds more intimidating, the abortion pill method can actually be more expensive than a surgical procedure ($350-$62515), will take longer, and will require multiple medical appointments. If there are complications requiring surgery, that is not included in this cost.16
There are also other things that you may need to pay for before and after taking the pills, such as:
Depending on how long the effects last, patients may also need to take time off work or line up childcare for other children.
The abortion pill is a big decision with lots of questions surrounding it, but it doesn’t have to be navigated alone. At A Woman’s Choice, we’d love to answer any question you have about abortion, pregnancy, and pretty much anything about your sexual health.
Chat with us anonymously online, or book an appointment for a pregnancy test, an ultrasound (free!), STI testing, or just to talk privately about what you’re facing if you or a friend are pregnant.
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Tuesday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Wednesday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Thursday 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Friday 10:00 am – 2:00 pm