Medical Abortion: Frequently Asked Questions

What is medical abortion?

Medical abortion—sometimes called medication abortion or the abortion pill—is a safe, effective way to terminate a pregnancy. Medical abortion uses pills that stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to miscarriage.

How does it work?

The World Health Organization recommends the combined use of mifepristone and misoprostol as the most effective method for medical abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

  • Mifepristone blocks progesterone, a hormone that supports an early pregnancy. When the progesterone is blocked, the pregnancy detaches from the wall of the uterus.
  • Misoprostol is a prostaglandin that softens the cervix and stimulates uterine contractions. These contractions cause bleeding and cramping which are necessary to expel the pregnancy. Where mifepristone is not available, misoprostol used on its own is a safe and effective option in the first trimester.

Is it safe and effective?

Medical abortion has been widely studied and safely used by millions of women in many countries. Combined regimens using mifepristone and misoprostol are up to 98.5 percent effective in the first nine weeks of pregnancy and up to 97 percent effective from nine to 13 weeks of pregnancy. Complications following medical abortion are rare. Medical abortion does not affect future pregnancies or the ability to get pregnant in the future.

Who can get medical abortion?

Medical abortion is safe and effective for almost all women, including adolescents, in the first trimester. Medical abortion can also be used in the second trimester.

Who can provide medical abortion?

Medical abortion can be provided in both high and low-resource settings, even in communities with limited access to health services. Medical abortion services do not require space for medical procedures or specialized medical equipment. In many countries, doctors and trained midwives provide medical abortion, but it can be provided by a wide range of health-care providers, including nurses, pharmacists and community health workers.