Schedule Today

Abortion Drugs

What are abortion drugs and how do they work? Perhaps you’re simply curious about this. If that’s the case for you, this article may give you an overview and basic information to satisfy your curiosity. Or maybe you’re asking these questions because you or someone you care about is confronting an unplanned pregnancy and trying to figure out what to do next. We hope the initial information about abortion drugs will be helpful, while learning about Avenue Women’s Center and how we are able to provide additional services and support you need.

For over thirty-six years, Avenue Women’s Center has been the first step for Chicagoland women facing an unintended pregnancy. As a non-profit limited women’s clinic, many of the services we offer are free of cost to you. Among these are a private, confidential pregnancy consultation including accurate information on abortion options. We understand that each woman’s situation is unique and will accompany you as you navigate the path ahead, whatever decisions you make about the pregnancy. Contact us today for your free private consultation.

In terms of “abortion drugs,” you are probably most familiar with “the abortion pill.” The technical name for the abortion pill is RU-486. It was developed by a French pharmaceutical company, Roussel-Uclaf, and became available to women in the United States in 2000. Its trade name (generic) is mifepristone; its US brand name is Mifeprex. RU-486 is actually a combination of two drugs used together to complete an abortion.

Mifepristone is the first of the two-drug regimen. It is a tablet taken by mouth, available only through a certified health care provider. It must be administered in a medical office, hospital, or clinic setting. This medication blocks the production of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the pregnancy to progress. Mifepristone causes the placenta to break down and detach from the lining of the uterus, and the pregnancy can grow no further.

The doctor provides the second drug, misoprostol (generic name), typically with instructions for taking it at home about 48 hours later. This medication (U.S. brand name: Cytotec) will usually induce intense cramping and heavy bleeding which causes the uterus to expel the pregnancy. Misoprostol (Cytotec) may also be utilized as a cervical dilator prior to a surgical abortion procedure. An RU-486 medication abortion is allowed by the FDA only up until week 10 (70 days after the first day of the last menstrual period) of a pregnancy.

Methotrexate (MTX), or Methotrexate with misoprostol is another medication abortion procedure used up to the first seven weeks (49 days) of pregnancy. Methotrexate has been available in the United States since 1953 as a treatment for cancer. It acts by disrupting the growth of cells, especially fast-growing cells. It began to be used in the 1980s to treat ectopic pregnancies (pregnancies located outside the uterus). Its use in abortions is considered “off-label” since it was not initially approved for abortion. Studies have indicated it takes more time for an abortion to be completed with methotrexate than with mifepristone. In general, Methotrexate has been used less commonly due to the current availability of Mifeprex.

As noted earlier, this has been a brief overview of abortion drugs and how they work. There are other questions for consideration as well:

  • What should most women expect to experience with the use of these drugs?
  • What are some side effects and possible risks with the various abortion medications?
  • When are some times it might be inadvisable to take the drugs?
  • What else could I be asking about this type of abortion?

Avenue Women’s Center is able to assist with these and other questions you may have on this topic. If your interest in abortion drugs is prompted by your own unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy of a friend or family member, please contact us for information and assistance. A caring, experienced client advocate is waiting to meet you at one of five DuPage County locations: Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn / Lombard, Naperville, West Chicago and Wood Dale, Illinois. Call, text, email or chat with us today.


  • Chemical & Engineering News. (2005, June). The Top Pharmaceuticals that Changed the World. Retrieved from:
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016, March). Medication Guide: Mifeprex. Retrieved from:
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016, March). MIFEPREX (mifepristone) tablets Label. Retrieved from:
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016, March). Questions and Answers on Mifeprex. Retrieved from:
  • Mayo Clinic. (2016, October). Dilation & Curettage. Retrieved from:
  • Abortion Pill Risks. (2012, July). The Abortion Pill. Retrieved from:
  • Mifeprix: Indications, Side Effects, Warnings. Retrieved from:
  • Methotrexate: Usage, Dosage, Side Effects. Retrieved from:
  • Medication Abortion. (2016, April). Methotrexate and misoprostol regimen. Retrieved from:
  • American Pregnancy Association. (2017, Apri). Medical Abortion Procedures. Retrieved from:
  • American Pregnancy Association. (2017, June) Abortion Pill. Retrieved from:
  • Medication Abortion. (2016, April). Methotrexate and misoprostol regimen. Retrieved from:
  • PubMed. (2002, May). Comparison of Abortions Induced by Methotrexate or Mifepristone Followed by Misoprostol. Retrieved from:

Reviewed by Patricia Kuenzi, APN-CNP, MSN, ANP, PNP.

The information provided here is general in nature.  It is not a substitute for a consultation with a medical professional. Before any medical procedure, it is imperative that you discuss your personal medical history, risks, and concerns with your doctor. If you have questions during or after a procedure, your doctor should be immediately contacted. Avenue Women’s Center is not an emergency center.  If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as bleeding and/or pain, seek immediate medical attention.  Contact your physician, go to an emergency room, or call 911.