Medical abortion is the use of medicine to end an undesired pregnancy. The medicine helps remove the fetus and placenta from the mother's womb (uterus).
There are different types of medical abortions:
An abortion is not the same as a miscarriage. Miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends on its own before the 20th week of pregnancy.
Surgical abortion uses surgery to end a pregnancy.
Therapeutic medical abortion; Elective medical abortion; Induced abortion; Nonsurgical abortion
A medical, or nonsurgical, abortion can be done within 7 weeks from the first day of the woman's last period. A combination of prescription hormone medicines is used to help the body remove the fetus and placenta tissue. Your health care provider may give you the medicines after doing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical history.
Medicines used include mifepristone, methotrexate, misoprostol, prostaglandins, or a combination of these medicines. Your provider will prescribe the medicine, and you will take it at home.
After you take the medicine, your body will expel the pregnancy tissue. Most women have moderate to heavy bleeding and cramping for several hours. Your provider may prescribe medicine for pain and nausea if needed to ease your discomfort during this process.
Medical abortion might be considered when:
Risks of medical abortion include:
The decision to end a pregnancy is very personal. To help weigh your choices, discuss your feelings with a counselor, provider, or a family member or friend.
Tests done before this procedure:
Follow-up with your provider is very important. This is to make sure the process was completed and all the tissue was expelled. The medicine may not work in a very small number of women. If this happens, another dose of the medicine or a surgical abortion procedure may need to be done.
Physical recovery most often occurs within a few days. It will depend on the stage of the pregnancy. Expect some vaginal bleeding and mild cramping for a few days.
A warm bath, a heating pad set on low, or a hot water bottle filled with warm water placed on the abdomen may help ease discomfort. Rest as needed. DO NOT do any vigorous activity for a few days. Light housework is fine. Avoid sexual intercourse for 2 to 3 weeks. A normal menstrual period should occur in about 4 to 6 weeks.
You can get pregnant before your next period. Be sure to make arrangements to prevent pregnancy, especially during the first month after the abortion.
Medical and surgical abortions are safe and effective. They rarely have serious complications. It is rare for a medical abortion to affect a woman's fertility or her ability to bear children in the future.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice bulletin no. 143: medical management of first-trimester abortion. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;123(3):676-692. PMID: 24553166 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24553166.
Lesnewski R, Prine L. Pregnancy termination: medication abortion. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 128.
Rivlin K, Westhoff C. Family planning. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 13.