Feb. 25, 2022 -- More than half of abortions in the United States are now done with pills rather than surgery, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

A survey of abortion providers showed that 54% of all U.S. abortions were done with medication in 2020, marking the first time the proportion of medication abortions topped 50%, Guttmacher said.

In 2017, the last time such a survey was done, 39% of abortions were performed by medication, Guttmacher said. The organization said 24% of abortions were done with medication in 2011 and 6% in 2001, the year after the FDA approved the pills.

The 54% estimate is based on early findings, Guttmacher said in a news release. It said that “final estimates will be released in late 2022 and the proportion for medication abortion use is not expected to fall below 50%.”

Rachel Jones, PhD, a Guttmacher researcher, said the higher use of abortion pills may be linked to increases in telemedicine because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the FDA’s decision last year to allow the mailing of abortion pills to patients, The Associated Press reported. Those changes mean women can now consult with a doctor online, receive the pills by mail, and complete the abortion at home.

Abortion pills are recommended for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, though research shows they can be safe in some cases after 10 weeks, Guttmacher said. Patients take the pill mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed for pregnancy to continue, and a few days later take the pill misoprostol, which causes cramping that empties the womb.

“The introduction and availability of medication abortion has proven to be a game changer in expanding abortion care in the United States, and it will likely be an even more important option for people to obtain an abortion as many states continue to pass legislation to bar or restrict abortion access,” Guttmacher said in the news release.

Arizona, Arkansas, and Texas have banned the mailing of abortion pills. Similar bans were approved in Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota but were blocked in the courts, Guttmacher said.

Sixteen state legislatures have proposed bans or restrictions on medication-induced abortion this year, while 32 states require this type of abortion to be prescribed by doctors.

In Texas, orders for abortion pills increased sharply after the state legislature approved a highly restrictive abortion law, Politico reported, citing a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Orders went up 1,180% in the first week after the Texas law took effect in September, researchers said. Orders dipped somewhat in later weeks but remained 175% higher than before the Texas law took effect.

Show Sources

Guttmacher Institute: “Medication Abortion Now Accounts for More Than Half of All US Abortions.”

The Associated Press: “Over half of U.S. abortions now done with pills, not surgery.”

Politico: “Abortion pill use spikes in Texas as thousands of patients circumvent state’s ban.”

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