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  • Writer's pictureMosaic Health

What Is The Abortion Pill & How Does It Work?

If you are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, you are likely considering whether abortion is the best option for you and your baby.

You may have been encouraged to end your pregnancy by taking a so-called “abortion pill,” also known as medical abortion or chemical abortion.

Many women are led to believe that just “popping a pill” is a quick, easy, painless way to end a pregnancy and forget about it forever. But how much do you really know about this particular abortion procedure?

There are two primary types of medical abortion pills:

  1. The Abortion Pill, also known as RU-486

  2. The Morning-After Pill, sometimes called the “day after pill” or “emergency contraception”

Let’s take a look at how these drugs work and the complications that some women experience.

How Does the Abortion Pill Work?

The “abortion pill” is actually a two-drug combination — mifepristone and misoprostol — that is typically prescribed by abortion clinics at up to 9 weeks of pregnancy(1).

Before undergoing this or any abortion procedure, you must first get a pregnancy test to confirm whether you are actually pregnant, an ultrasound to determine how far along you are, and a physical exam to assess whether it is safe for you to take the abortion pill(1).

Once you are deemed eligible for the procedure, you will take the first pill, called mifepristone (or RU-486), at the abortion clinic(1).

  1. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone from reaching your uterus

  2. This causes the lining of your uterus to break down

  3. This in turn prevents your baby from continuing to grow, resulting in his or her death

You will take the second drug, misoprostol, within 36 and 72 hours of taking the first pill(1).

  1. Misoprostol can be taken orally or vaginally

  2. This drug causes strong contractions until your body expels your baby

  3. The abortion takes place within a few hours to a few days after you take the pill

  4. You will have a follow-up visit with your abortion doctor two weeks later to determine if abortion is complete

Women with the following conditions cannot have the abortion pill(1):

  1. Ectopic pregnancy

  2. Ovarian mass

  3. Women with an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted

  4. Women who are taking corticosteroids

  5. Adrenal failure

  6. Anemia

  7. Bleeding disorders

  8. Women who use blood thinners

  9. Asthma

  10. Liver or kidney problems

  11. Heart disease

  12. High blood pressure

Among healthy women who take the abortion pill, many have reported the following complications(1):

  1. Cramping

  2. Nausea and vomiting

  3. Diarrhea

  4. Heavy bleeding

  5. Infections

  6. Unsuccessful or incomplete abortion requiring surgical abortion occurs about 10% of the time

How Does the Morning After Pill Work?

The morning after pill, also called “emergency contraception, works in one of three ways(2,3):

  1. It can prevent or delay ovulation

  2. It can prevent fertilization

  3. It can prevent your baby from implanting in your uterus after conception, which is a form of early abortion

To illustrate how the morning after pill works as an abortion method, it is important to understand how ovulation and fertilization take place(4):

  1. You ovulate once approximately every 28 days, so you have a 3.57% chance of ovulation on any random day

  2. Your egg can be fertilized for 12 to 24 hours after ovulation

  3. Your partner’s sperm can fertilize your egg for up to 5 days after having sex, which means if you ovulate on the day you have sex, or up to 5 days later, you can conceive

  4. The morning after pill usually takes between 12 and 24 hours to work

  5. Once fertilization occurs, it takes 5 to 7 days for your baby to implant in your uterus

This means that about 78% of the time, the morning after pill is unnecessary because ovulation does not occur within 5 days of having sex. Of the 22% of cases where the morning after pill works, it most commonly works by preventing your baby from implanting after he or she is conceived(2):If you take the morning after pill within…Percent of time it works by stopping implantation(3)24 hours of having sex43%24-48 hours of having sex57%48-72 hours of having sex71%

The morning after pill has been found to be unsafe for the following individuals(2,3):

  1. Women with blood clots or deep vein thrombosis

  2. Women who are allergic to any of the pill’s ingredients

  3. Women who are taking other medicines which would compromise the pill’s effectiveness. Tell your abortion provider about other medications you are taking.

  4. Women who are already pregnant

  5. Women who are breastfeeding

In addition to these special cases, many complications have been reported among healthy women who use the morning after pill(3):

  1. Nausea and vomiting

  2. Abdominal pain

  3. Fatigue

  4. Headache

  5. Menstrual abnormalities

Note: Many people confuse the “morning after pill” also known as emergency contraception (EC) with the “abortion pill” RU486. The confusion stems from one method in which EC works – it changes the lining of the uterus possibly preventing implantation of an already fertilized egg (conception). This poses an ethical dilemma for those who believe life begins at conception, not at implantation.

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy — or suspect that you may be pregnant — you may face pressure from peers, family members, your boyfriend, or other individuals to make a quick decision.

But you need to take your time to consider all of the options available to you and to gather all of the pertinent information to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.

If you’d like to learn more about the risks of the abortion pill and other abortion methods, along with other options like adoption or parenting, please contact us at Mosaic Health today.

We offer free, confidential services, including pregnancy testing and options counseling to assist you in a safe, nonjudgmental environment free from any outside pressure. And because we do not profit from your decision, that gives us the objectivity to provide you with the unbiased, medically accurate information you need to make a decision you’ll feel good about.


(1) Source 2: American Pregnancy Association. (2015). Medical Abortion Procedures. Accessed from

(2) Source 3: Mayo Clinic. (2015). Morning After Pill. Accessed from

(3) WebMD. (2016). Emergency Contraception. Accessed from

(4) The Truth About the Morning After Pill. (2015). How Does It Work?



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