RU-486 (The “Abortion Pill”)
The so-called “abortion pill” is actually a combination therapy consisting of two medications.
- The first medication, called mifepristone, is a pill you take at the abortion clinic. This medication blocks the essential reproductive hormone, progesterone, initiating endometrial erosion. This means the growing placenta and fetus are broken away from the lining of your uterus depriving your baby of the oxygen and nutrients he or she needs to survive.
- The second medication, called misoprostol, is taken 1 to 2 days after mifepristone and causes the dilation of your cervix and induces contractions, cramping and heavy bleeding as your baby is expelled from your uterus. Most women abort within 4 to 5 hours of taking misoprostol, but severe bleeding and cramping can continue for several weeks. You may see large blood clots and fetal tissue/parts discharged from your vagina as the abortion takes place.
As with many new drugs, once they are marketed and used in thousands or even millions of individuals it is more likely that rare adverse effects or major complications can occur. Some of these adverse effects range in severity from minor to life threatening. In 2016, the FDA reported that there had been reports of a women who suffered from infection, heart attacks, and death.
As with all approved drugs, when the FDA receives new information regarding adverse events, the agency reviews the new information and, as appropriate, provides updates to doctors and their patients so that they have information on how to use the drug safely.
Along with the side effects mentioned above, thousands of women have also experienced other severe complications:
- Strong allergic reaction to active ingredients
- Failure to terminate the pregnancy, leading to a potentially dangerous suction abortion
- Excessive bleeding requiring a suction abortion
- Incomplete expulsion of fetal parts
- Blood clots
- Uterine infection requiring antibiotics
Even among women who do not get the most severe complications, most will suffer the following symptoms:
- Severe and persistent long-term pain
- Persistent high fever
- Heavy bleeding that fills 2 or more maxi pads for several days/weeks in a row
- Strong vaginal odor
- Continuing pregnancy symptoms
What’s the difference?
The Morning After Pill & The Abortion Pill
The “morning after pill” is marketed as an emergency contraception method. The most commonly used preparation contains a high level of a progestin and can be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. New insights into how it works make it clear that it can prevent implantation of the young human embryo into the lining of the uterus. This is a contragestational or abortifacient effect, not a contraceptive effect.
The abortion pill, mifepristone, is taken up to seven to nine weeks into a pregnancy with the intention of causing an abortion. It works by blocking progesterone receptors. Progesterone is the necessary hormone that nurtures and supports a pregnancy.
The newest morning after pill, Ella, is very similar to mifepristone in its action in that it blocks progesterone receptors. It is approved by the FDA for use up to five days after intercourse and also has abortifacient effects. (Abortion Pill Reversal, 2015)
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Sources: (a) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2014. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/