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Everything you need to know about the abortion pill

A medication abortion is a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. Learn more about abortion pills, how they work, and how you can get them.

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An abortion with pills (aka a medication abortion) is a safe, effective, and common way to end a pregnancy. In fact, according to The Guttmacher Institute, more than half of all abortions in the US are now medication abortions.

But not everyone knows what the “abortion pill” is, or even that it’s an option: Only one-fourth of all adults have ever heard of mifepristone or medication abortion.

Here’s what you need to know about medication abortion—including how to obtain one through virtual clinics like Hey Jane.

What is the abortion pill?

What’s known as the “abortion pill” actually refers to two different medications that are taken during a medication abortion: mifepristone and misoprostol. Either a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, or just misoprostol on its own, can be taken to very safely and effectively end an early pregnancy.

Mifepristone stops the body from producing progesterone, which in turn ends a pregnancy. Misoprostol causes bleeding and cramping, which helps to pass the pregnancy.

Misoprostol was first developed in the 1970s and first approved by the FDA in 1988, originally to treat peptic ulcers. But pregnant people in Brazil discovered that the medication had another use after experiencing the bleeding and cramping side effects.

Mifepristone was first developed by French researchers in the 1980s. Countries like China, Great Britain, and Sweden all legalized the medication abortion regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol in the late-’80s and early-’90s; in the US, the FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 and approved mailing abortion pills in 2021.

When can you take the abortion pill?

The FDA approved mifepristone and misoprostol for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. That said, clinical guidelines go up to 11 weeks—and there’s evidence that the medications can be effective beyond that timeline. At Hey Jane, we treat patients who are up to 10 weeks pregnant when they sign up for treatment.

There are some reasons why a medication abortion might not be the best option for a patient, such as if they currently use an intrauterine device (IUD), have severe anemia, have a confirmed or suspected ectopic pregnancy (which is a pregnancy outside the uterus), or other medical contraindications. At both an in-person and an online clinic, a medical professional is able to help determine if abortion pills are the right option for you.

How does the abortion pill work?

Put very simply, abortion pills work by causing changes in the body that end a pregnancy. Here’s how to take abortion pills, how the FDA-approved regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol works, and what happens when you take abortion pills.

Step 1: One mifepristone is taken with water.

As previously mentioned, mifepristone blocks the production of progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to continue growing. Most people feel totally fine and have no symptoms after taking mifepristone.

Step 2: After waiting 24-48 hours, four misoprostol pills are either placed inside the vagina or between the cheek and gum for 30 minutes.

Misoprostol is the medication that causes cramping and bleeding, which helps to pass the pregnancy, similar to an early miscarriage. Heavy bleeding and cramping are expected within about 4-6 hours of taking the medication. Taking ibuprofen (or, for people who are allergic, Tylenol Extra-Strength) and anti-nausea medication 30 minutes before using misoprostol can help. Depending on how many weeks pregnant someone is, they may take an additional dose of misoprostol to ensure that treatment is successful; Hey Jane’s medical providers let patients know what would be best for them.

Having some of these items on hand can help manage symptoms after taking abortion pills:

  • 800 mg ibuprofen or Tylenol Extra-Strength (included for all Hey Jane patients)
  • Hot water or heating pad
  • Warm tea or soup
  • Anti-nausea medication (Hey Jane patients also receive this)

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How effective is the abortion pill?

Research continues to show that abortion pills are incredibly effective: Used together, mifepristone and misoprostol are up to 98% effective (up to 11 weeks of pregnancy).

That’s not all: Studies have found that abortion pills prescribed and administered via telemedicine (through a clinic like Hey Jane) is just as safe and effective as getting them in person.

Is the abortion pill safe?

Yes—abortion pills are also very safe. They have a significant adverse reaction rate of only 0.2%. Let’s put that percentage into context:

  • Abortion pills lead to fewer severe complications than Advil and Tylenol.
  • Abortion pills lead to fewer severe complications than Viagra.
  • Abortion pills lead to fewer severe complications than childbirth.

Experts say abortion of any kind does not impact future fertility, increase the likelihood of breast cancer, cause depression, or any of the other common myths about potential health effects.

How much does the abortion pill cost?

The exact cost of abortion pills varies from clinic to clinic. Additionally, in some states, the medication may be covered by insurance—in others, it’s completely out of pocket. The best way to know the cost of abortion pills is to check with the clinic. They also might be able to help connect you with an abortion fund for financial assistance.

Hey Jane offers a sliding scale from $199 for patients paying out of pocket who are needing financial assistance—all of our patients pay less than the average in-clinic abortion pill price. We also partner with select abortion funds so more people can access the care they need.

How to get abortion pills

Individual providers, women’s health clinics, virtual clinics like Hey Jane, and online pharmacies are all possible ways to get abortion pills. 

Unfortunately, there are fake clinics out there that might come up in your Google searches; these so-called crisis pregnancy centers (aka CPCs) are fake clinics that solely exist to delay or stop people from getting the abortion care they’re seeking. For resources you can trust, try Plan C, ineedana.com, and abortionfinder.org.

If you need abortion pills right now, you can also click on the “Get Started” button on the top right of this article to see if you’re eligible for treatment with Hey Jane. You’ll hear from a member of our clinical care team within 24 hours (Monday-Friday) and find out if Hey Jane is right for you. In the meantime, have a look around our blog to learn more. We’ll be here for you whenever you need us.

Meet Hey Jane: modern, virtual abortion care

Learn more

Written by

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a New York-based writer and editor of words dealing with reproductive health and abortion access.

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