Therapeutic Abortion: Medical
(Abortion; Mifeprex; Mifepristone; RU-486)
Therapeutic abortion is the intentional termination of pregnancy. A medical abortion is done by taking medications. This procedure is done in very early pregnancy. It can be done up to seven weeks.
This process is not the same as emergency contraception. An abortion ends a current pregnancy. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy.
Female Reproductive Organs
Reasons for Procedure
A therapeutic abortion is done to:
- Preserve the mother’s health
- End a pregnancy that tests have shown would result in a child with severe abnormalities
Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure
It is best to do the procedure as early in the pregnancy as possible. This decreases the chance of complications.
If you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. The earlier you find out, the more time you have to make an informed choice about the pregnancy. Early symptoms of pregnancy include the following:
- A missed period
- Tender, swollen breasts
- Nausea or vomiting
- Increased sensitivity to odors
- Food aversions
- Frequent urination
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may:
- Manually examine you—to determine the stage of your pregnancy by assessing the size and texture of the uterus
- Do blood and urine tests—to confirm the pregnancy
- Use ultrasound—to give an accurate assessment of the stage of pregnancy
Description of the Procedure
There are three steps to a medical therapeutic abortion:
- First, you take one medication in your doctor's office. The medication stops the pregnancy. They may include:
- Second, you take misoprostol in tablet form. This causes the uterus to contract and empty.
- Last, your doctor makes sure the procedure was complete by ultrasound or a blood test.
How Long Will It Take?
The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the specific drugs used.
Will It Hurt?
You may feel:
- Strong cramps
- Temporary abdominal pain
- Have temporary mild fever or chills
This procedure is very safe. Risks increase if you wait later in the pregnancy to terminate. Problems resulting from medical abortion include:
- Allergic reaction
- Heavy bleeding
- Incomplete procedure
Medical abortion is unsuccessful about 5% of the time. If the abortion was not complete, you may require more medication or a vacuum aspiration to end the pregnancy.
Average Hospital Stay
There is no stay required. It is often done at the doctor's office.
After a therapeutic abortion:
- You may have cramps, bleeding, and nausea.
- You should not douche or use vaginal medications for at least 24 hours.
- Do not have sex for at least one week.
- You should physically recover within a couple of days.
Sudden hormone changes may intensify natural feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, and regret. Most doctors can offer or refer you to follow-up counseling.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Abortion pill. Liberty Women’s Health Care website. Available at:
Planned Parenthood website. Available at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/pp2/portal/medicalinfo/abortion/main.xml . Accessed on December 9, 2008.
What you need to know: The difference between medical abortion and emergency contraceptive pills. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals website. Available at: http://www.arhp.org/factsheets/mifepristone_ec.cfm . Accessed December 9, 2008.
Last reviewed December 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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