A Woman's Right to Know

Medical (Nonsurgical) Abortion

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Medical abortion is a way to end a pregnancy with medicines without a surgical procedure, and must be performed by a physician. The protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows this type of abortion up to 49 days after the last menstrual period. A medical abortion can only be used in early pregnancy, usually up to seven weeks. The gestational age must be determined before getting any of these medicines.

Who should not have a medical abortion?

Some women should not be given the medicines used for a medical abortion, such as women who are too far along in their pregnancy, those allergic to certain medications, or women with an IUD in place. You should discuss with your doctor whether you have any medical condition that would make a medical abortion unsafe for you. To have a medical abortion, you must:

  • Have access to an emergency room
  • Have access to a telephone
  • Be able to attend all the visits; several visits may be required
  • Be able to follow the doctor's instructions and understand what may occur with the procedure.

Mifepristone (RU 486) and methotrexate are two of the medicines used for a medical abortion. Mifepristone is given to a woman by mouth, or vaginally. Methotrexate is usually given by injection, but may also be given by mouth. Methotrexate can cause serious birth defects if your pregnancy doesn't end.

After receiving mifepristone or methotrexate, you may bleed and pass clots, tissue, and the unborn fetus within hours to days. The bleeding can last up to three weeks or more. Your doctor will tell you when you need to return to be checked. If you are still pregnant at that visit, you will be given a second drug (misoprostol), either by mouth or vaginally. Approximately two weeks later, you will return for an important follow-up visit. Your doctor will determine whether your pregnancy has completely ended. If you are still pregnant, a surgical procedure may be necessary.