The Abortion Pill (RU486)
One abortion option is called the “abortion pill” which causes a medical abortion. Other names for this form of abortion include RU486 or a “medication abortion.”
This abortion procedure has been approved for use with pregnancies within 49 days of the last menstrual period and considered unsafe beyond that time.
The pill, or mifepristone, causes an abortion by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for pregnancy to continue. The abortion pill is administered in three doses, along with another drug, misoprostol, and usually requires three clinic visits.
On the first visit, the woman takes three mifepristone abortion pills, which results in the death of the fetus.
On Day 3, she takes the second abortion pill, misoprostol, which will cause cramping to expel the fetus.
A follow-up visit is required two weeks after taking the abortion pill to ensure that the pregnancy has terminated. If an ultrasound scan shows that the fetus has not been expelled, a surgical abortion will be required, typically at an additional cost.
Other names for the abortion pill (Ru486):
Mifepristone is the generic name for RU-486. In the U.S., RU486 is sold under the brand names Mifeprex® andEarly Option®.
The abortion pill involves two drugs
When taken alone, RU486 causes a complete abortion only about 60% of the time. A second drug, a prostaglandin, is given 48 hours later to increase the abortion pill’s effectiveness. The prostaglandin causes uterine contractions to help expel the fetus. Misoprostol (brand name Cytotec) is the prostaglandin used with RU-486 in the U.S.
Adverse events and side effects of the abortion pill:
In U.S. trials of RU486/misoprostol, at least 99% of patients experienced at least one of the following abortion pill side effects:
- Abdominal pain (cramping) (97%)
- Nausea (67%)
- Headache (32%)
- Vomiting (34%)
- Diarrhea (23%)
- Dizziness (12%)
- Fatigue (9%)
- Back pain (9%)
- Uterine hemorrhage (7%)
- Fever (4%)
- Viral infections (4%)
- Vaginitis (4%)
- Rigors (chills/shaking)(3%)
More than one adverse event was reported for most patients. … Approximately 23% of the adverse events … were judged to be severe.”
[The] FDA is aware of four women in the United States who died from sepsis (severe illness caused by infection of the bloodstream) after medical abortion with Mifeprex and misoprostol.
Who Should not take the abortion pill (ru486):
The FDA advises that the Abortion Pill (RU486) should NOT be taken if any one of the following circumstances apply:
- It has been more than 49 days … since your last menstrual period began.
- You have an IUD. It must be taken out. …
- Your provider has told you that you have a pregnancy outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy). [Note: About 2% of pregnancies are outside the uterus.]
- You have problems with your adrenal glands (chronic adrenal failure).
- You take a medicine to thin your blood.
- You have a bleeding problem.
- You take certain steroid medications.
- You cannot return for the next 2 visits after taking the abortion pil l[2 days and 14 days after taking RU-486].
- You cannot easily get emergency medical help [including ‘blood transfusions, and emergency resuscitation’] in the 2 weeks after you take [the abortion pill – RU486].
- You are allergic to mifepristone [RU-486], misoprostol, or medicines that contain misoprostol such as Cytotec or Arthrotec.
How to calculate the length of pregnancy:
Doctors calculate the length of pregnancy by counting from the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP), that is, about two weeks prior to conception (fertilization). So “up to 49 days LMP” means up to 5 weeks after conception.
ABC Women’s Health & Ultrasound Center offers individual consultation and accurate information about all pregnancy options including abortion procedures and risks.