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What is the Abortion Pill?

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, you are also facing many questions as you seek to determine how you will proceed. It’s likely you will want to explore your options, and perhaps one of your questions is, “What is the abortion pill?” Maybe you’ve heard of it, but don’t know exactly how it works. Possibly it’s not something you needed to know about before. Now you do.

The abortion pill is used in what is called a “medical” or “medication” abortion, providing a non-surgical, non-invasive procedure to end a pregnancy. That’s a short answer; we’ll go on in this article to fill in additional facts for you. As you continue reading, you may discover that further questions come to mind. We want you to know Avenue Women’s Center is available to assist you with information, and for working with you through your first steps on this journey. As you weigh your options and move forward to arrive at your own best decision for the pregnancy, we are here to support you with our services, many of which are free of charge. If you’re in Chicagoland, we hope you will contact us and allow us to come beside you at this difficult time. First, though, the information we promised for your question: “What is the abortion pill?”

The “abortion pill” is actually a regimen of two different medications taken in sequence. The first pill is mifepristone, also known as RU-486. This medication acts to block the production of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the pregnancy to progress. The lining of the uterus breaks down, and the pregnancy is stopped from continuing to develop.

To complete the abortion, the second medication, misoprostol, must be taken 24 to 48 hours after the mifepristone. Misoprostol brings on contractions through which the uterus will expel its contents. Women experience cramping and heavy bleeding as the uterus empties itself. The severity of the cramping and bleeding varies from one woman to another. This can begin as quickly as a few hours after taking the misoprostol, or may take up to a few days.

A medication abortion usually involves at least two in-clinic medical appointments over about three weeks. The procedure must be carried out under the supervision of a physician or qualified clinician.

  • For a first appointment, a woman’s medical history will be taken, lab work will be done, and she will undergo a physical examination to determine her eligibility for the procedure. The medication abortion may only be performed until the 10th week of the pregnancy (70 days after the first day of her last menstrual period). An ultrasound is required for accurate dating of the pregnancy. The woman will receive information from the provider and must sign a liability release. At this visit in the clinic or doctor’s office, she may be given the first medication, mifepristone.
  • The misoprostol may be taken at home, and the abortion may be completed there.
  • Two weeks later, the woman must return to the clinic for an examination to ensure the uterus has emptied completely with no tissue remaining inside.

For women with some common health problems, a medication abortion is not recommended. These restrictive conditions include: allergic reactions to mifepristone, misoprostol or similar drug; adrenal gland problems; bleeding problems (taking an anticoagulant drug); those undergoing long-term steroid medications; or anyone with an ectopic pregnancy. If an intrauterine device (IUD) is in place, it must be removed before the procedure. Be sure to discuss these issues and any other concerns you have with your doctor.

Requirements and restrictions for use of the abortion pill vary from state to state. Most states require that the provider be a licensed physician. You will want to be sure your provider is in compliance with any state regulations.

That’s some basic information to answer, “What is the abortion pill?” Do you have other questions about medication abortion or any other pregnancy-related issues? For over thirty-five years, Avenue Women’s Center has been the first step for women of all ages and circumstances in the Chicagoland area who are confronted with an unintended pregnancy. Please call to schedule your free, private and confidential appointment with one of our trained and experienced pregnancy consultants. It is our commitment to serve all our clients, including you, with nonjudgmental care and compassion. You can reach us by phone, text, email or chat. You don’t need to do this alone. Please call us today.


  • American Pregnancy Association. (2017, June). Abortion Pill. Retrieved from:
  • American Pregnancy Association. (2017, August). Medical Abortion Procedures. Retrieved from:
  • Guttmacher Institute. (2017, August). Medication Abortion, State Laws and Policies. Retrieved from:
  • WebMD. (2014, June). Abortion – Choices: Medical Abortion Retrieved from:
  • WebMD. (2014, June). Abortion – What to Think About. Retrieved from:
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). (2016, March) Questions and Answers on Mifeprex. 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.