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Abortion - Choices: Medical Abortion

Medical abortion is the use of medicines to end a pregnancy. Medical abortion can be done up to about 9 weeks of pregnancy.

  • A typical treatment schedule for a medical abortion usually requires at least two visits to your doctor over several weeks. For the first visit, one medicine is taken during the visit and a second medicine is given to be taken at home. Vaginal bleeding may last about 14 days. Usually about 2 weeks after the first medical visit, a follow-up examination is needed to see if you are recovering well and to make sure the procedure worked.
  • Medical care before and after a medical abortion includes physical exams and lab tests, education about what to expect, self-care instructions, information on when to call your doctor, and birth control planning.

Medicines currently available in the United States for inducing abortion are:

  • Misoprostol. This hormone softens and opens (dilates) the cervix and triggers uterine contractions. Misoprostol used alone may end a pregnancy but is much more effective when used with other medicines, such as mifepristone or methotrexate, in first-trimester abortions.
  • Mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone, also known as Mifeprex or RU-486, blocks the effects of the hormone progesterone. This stops the placenta's growth, softens the cervix, and makes the uterus ready for labor. Misoprostol is then used to start contractions to clear the uterus of all tissue.
  • Methotrexate and misoprostol. Methotrexate interferes with the placenta's growth. It is not as effective as mifepristone and takes longer to abort a pregnancy. Misoprostol is then used to start contractions to clear the uterus of all tissue.

See the What to Think About section of this topic for a comparison of medical abortion and surgical abortion.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 31, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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