What to Know About Medication Abortion

Despite court battles over mifepristone and medication abortion, you can still get the abortion pill, even in states where it's banned.

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6 min read
Two pills, standing on edge, against a light orange background.

How much do you know about the abortion pill?

Oleg Rebrik/Getty Images

After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, the ease of which someone can get an abortion mostly hinges on what state they live in. But while abortion bans completely stop in-clinic procedures in states that have implemented new rules, medication abortion remains an option in every state through the mail-order website Aid Access, which fills prescriptions at an overseas pharmacy.

Medication abortion typically consists of two medications: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone has been in the spotlight and is the target of lawsuits against medication abortion because its sole approval is for ending pregnancies. Most recently, a lawsuit in Texas has challenged the US Food and Drug Administration's approval of mifepristone and threatens to remove it from the US market. Even if it is eventually removed, however, medication abortions can still be done with misoprostol only, though they may be less effective or come with more side effects. 

Many states have banned or placed heavy restrictions on medication abortion -- which now accounts for most abortions in the US. And the legal landscape around mifepristone is constantly shifting, which may impact where you're able to pick up a mifepristone prescription, even in states where there aren't abortion bans. But because medication abortions are done at home, and the second pill in the procedure will remain on the market even if the first is pulled, it remains an option even in the most restrictive states.

Here's what you need to know.

Hand holding the abortion pill

The abortion pill can safely terminate a pregnancy.

Manoocher Deghati/Getty Images

What's the abortion pill? 

The abortion pill actually consists of two medicines, taken one after the other, that are used to terminate a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol. According to Planned Parenthood, the pill is recommended for up to 11 weeks of pregnancy. After 11 weeks, the side effects of the pill, like cramping, nausea and chills, may be more intense. 

People may choose medication or in-clinic abortions for different reasons. 

"Both methods of abortion are safe and effective, and it's important that my patients be able to choose the method that is right for them," Dr. Nisha Verma, Darney-Landy Fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement. "Some of my patients prefer the abortion procedure, knowing that when they leave my care, they are no longer pregnant. Others prefer to be able to take the pills needed for medication abortion in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Both choices are great choices, and both methods should be equally available to all of my patients." 

"Data indicates that medication abortion can be used for abortions after 70 days gestational age," said Verma. "A different medication regimen may be used to increase the effectiveness of the process after nine weeks from the last menstrual period."  

How does the abortion pill work?

Once people obtain the medication, they take mifepristone first. This pill blocks the body's production of progesterone, a hormone required for a pregnancy to develop normally. Next, they take the second pill, misoprostol, up to 48 hours later. Misoprostol essentially induces the cervix and uterus to relax and expel the contents of the uterus. 

After taking misoprostol, people may experience heavy cramping and bleeding, similar to a miscarriage. According to Planned Parenthood, if there's no bleeding within 24 hours of taking the second pill, people should call their nurse or doctor. 

Images of abortion pill packaging

The abortion pill is actually two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol.

Robyn Beck/Getty Images

To ensure the medication worked, take a pregnancy test, or follow up with your doctor. Research shows medication abortion effectiveness may be higher than 98%, though how far along someone is in their pregnancy (gestational age) will impact effectiveness and may require an additional dose of medication. Medication abortion using only misoprostol is also effective, but less than the mifepristone-misoprostol combination: about 88%, according to one study. 

"The current evidence shows that most people are able to safely and effectively manage their abortions using mifepristone and misoprostol when they acquire these medications from reliable sources," said Verma. "Medication abortion is an extremely safe medical intervention." 

How can I get the abortion pill? 

There are a number of ways to get the abortion pill, though the method depends on state law. In states where abortion has been banned, it's possible to get the medication by ordering through the mail. Here are a few resources:

Planned Parenthood

You can obtain the abortion pill at your nearest Planned Parenthood health center. Use the Find a Health Center locator on Planned Parenthood's website. Once you find a nearby clinic, you can call 1-800-230-PLAN or book an appointment online. The locator will let you know what services the clinic offers, what the hours are and information about insurance and payments. 

Plan C

Plan C is an information campaign with the goal of normalizing the self-directed option of the abortion pill by mail. Visit the website, click Find Abortion Pills and choose your state. Plan C will let you know if abortion is banned in your area, inform you of available services for accessing the pill by mail with clinician support, and give you information on prices, delivery time frames and more. For people living in restrictive states, they direct to Aid Access. 

Aid Access

Aid Access offers abortion pill access in all 50 states, regardless of state law, including Texas. In states where abortion is currently restricted, a doctor outside of the US will prescribe you the medication to be filled at a pharmacy overseas, as reported by Verywell Health. People can also order pills through Aid Access to have on hand even if they're not pregnant

Abortion pill resting on an air mail package

Many organizations can help you get the abortion pill discreetly and fast through the mail.

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Abortion Finder 

You can also find a nearby abortion provider through abortionfinder.org. As with Planned Parenthood, you'll need to input some information (which the site says is kept private and confidential), like your location, age range and the first day of your last period (it'll still work if you're unsure). Click Find a Provider to view a directory of verified providers in the US, as well as articles about abortion and a guide to abortion laws by state.  

Abortion on Demand

Abortion on Demand is an organization dedicated to delivering the abortion pill to people in need, quickly, easily and safely. Visit the website and click Schedule Visit. You'll be guided through a short questionnaire and set up a telehealth appointment with a doctor. If you meet Abortion on Demand's requirements, the service can overnight the abortion pills to you in discreet packaging along with medications to help with cramping and nausea. After you've taken the pills, the organization will check on you and offer follow-up doctor support. 

How much does the abortion pill cost?

According to Planned Parenthood, the medication costs about $750, but price varies based on your state, health center or applicable health insurance. If you can't afford it, you can find it several hundred dollars cheaper through some providers, like Aid Access, Abortion Telemedicine and Forward Midwifery

According to Planned Parenthood, the abortion pill may be free or cheaper with health insurance, but some plans don't cover it. To find out for sure, you'll need to call your insurance provider. 

If your insurance doesn't cover the pill, or you need more assistance, you can look into abortion fund organizations like the National Network of Abortion Funds. On NNAF's site, you can search your state to find a fund and see if it offers financial assistance. These funds can also help with child care, contraception, lodging, translators and more. 

Image of Plan B One Step pill packaging.

Plan B isn't the abortion pill.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Is the abortion pill different from Plan B?

Yes. Plan B, or the "morning after pill" is an emergency contraceptive designed to prevent pregnancy before it begins. Abortion pills are used to terminate an existing pregnancy. Plan B is most often used by people who forgot a dose of their daily birth control, for example, and recently had unprotected sex.

Plan B, or levonorgestrel, temporarily delays ovulation and prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. The abortion pill blocks the progesterone hormone, which is produced when someone's already pregnant. 

CNET's Jessica Rendall contributed to this report. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.