Abortion Pill FAQs: Get the Facts About Medication Abortion

Reproductive rights advocates have been working hard to create an infrastructure of information and support for accessing and using abortion pills, no matter what the Supreme Court rules.

Here’s an easy guide to information about abortion pills.

(The contents of these FAQs are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical or legal advice from qualified providers.)

What is medication abortion?

Medication abortion uses two FDA-approved oral medications to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly referred to as “abortion pills.” Mifepristone interrupts the flow of the hormone progesterone that sustains the pregnancy, and misoprostol causes contractions to expel the contents of the uterus. You can use these pills in combination or use misoprostol alone.

How is this different from a traditional abortion procedure?

Medication abortion uses pills, which are taken at home over two days, whereas aspiration abortion involves a manual aspiration procedure where the contents of the uterus are extracted through suction. Over half of all people having abortions use pills.

Are abortion pills the same as Plan B pills?

No. Plan B is emergency contraception, which you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days after having sex without using birth control. Abortion pills end a pregnancy and are used after you miss your period.

Do I need a prescription to get abortion pills?

Abortion pills are prescription medications in the U.S., but many people are buying them from online pharmacies without a prescription, especially in states with burdensome restrictions or bans on abortion. Finding and using pills without consulting a medical provider is called “self-managed” abortion.

Are abortion pills safe?

Abortion pills are extremely safe. Serious adverse events occur in less than one-third of one percent of medication abortions. The abortion pill mifepristone is safer than Tylenol.

Medication abortion uses two types of pills: mifepristone, which interrupts the flow of the hormone progesterone that sustains the pregnancy; and misoprostol, which causes contractions to expel the contents of the uterus. (VAlaSiurua / Wikimedia Commons)

Are abortion pills effective?

Yes. Abortion pills are over 95 percent effective when used within 10 weeks of the first day of your last menstrual period.

How far into a pregnancy can I use abortion pills?

The FDA has approved a regimen of one mifepristone pill and four misoprostol pills through 10 weeks of pregnancy (counting from the first day of your last period). The World Health Organization has approved this regimen for up to 12 weeks. Abortion pills are effective later in pregnancy under a different regimen.

How can you find abortion pills?

All states currently allow medical providers to prescribe abortion pills, and 26 states and D.C. allow prescription via telehealth, with the consultation done by videoconference, telephone call or online form. 

For people living in states that do not allow telehealth or where abortion clinics are inaccessible, people can purchase abortion pills from online pharmacies or use the European-based medical provider Aid Access at aidaccess.org. Some people also use U.S. providers and mail-forwarding services.

The organization Plan C has a comprehensive guide to finding abortion pills on their website at www.plancpills.org. Select “Find Abortion Pills” and then select the state where you are located from the drop-down menu. The website is continually updated and has all the latest information on where to find abortion pills from anywhere in the U.S. 

Updated June 6, 3:30 p.m. PT: New Hampshire has repealed their ultrasound requirement so telehealth abortion is now available in the state through Abortion on Demand. Michigan also now has telehealth abortion.

How much do abortion pills cost?

Online pharmacies and new telehealth abortion services charge $105 and up. In-clinic medication abortion costs $600 on average. The misoprostol-only method, which can be found online or in pharmacies in other countries, costs between $40 to $300. Many telemedicine services accept insurance/Medicaid or offer discounts to those who can’t pay. Just ask.

What’s the difference between using the combination of pills versus just misprostol?

Using misoprostol alone is less expensive and more widely available (including over the counter in Mexico and in many other countries), but it is slightly less effective and causes stronger cramping, which can be uncomfortable.

How do I find a reliable online pharmacy?

Many online pharmacies sell abortion pills and ship them to all 50 states. They do not do a medical consultation and do not require a prescription. Online pharmacies sell generic abortion pills that have not been inspected by the US government, but Plan C regularly tests these online pharmacies by buying pills from them. Plan C lists pharmacies that reliably shipped pills, plus the cost and ship time, on their website.

Do I need any tests before taking abortion pills?

Most people use a home pregnancy test to confirm that they are pregnant and do not need any other medical tests to get abortion pills, unless they have a history or symptoms of ectopic pregnancy (like pelvic pain).

Can I buy abortion pills now to use later?

Yes. Some people purchase abortion pills in advance to keep in their medicine cabinet in case their period is late. Aid Access at aidaccess.org offers advance provision abortion pills in all 50 states. Mifepristone has a shelf life of about 5 years and misoprostol’s shelf life is 2 years.

How do you use abortion pills?

You first take the mifepristone pill. You wait 24 hours, then you take four misoprostol pills. 

Detailed instructions for how to take abortion pills are available in 27 languages at HowToUseAbortionPill.org. The website has a 24/7 chatbot—Ally—that is multilingual (English, French, Spanish, Hindi and Kiswahili) and equipped to direct visitors with detailed questions to a live counselling platform at safe2choose.org. Ally can also be accessed via WhatsApp at https://bit.ly/AllyEnglish or +1 (833) 221-2559.

SASS (Self-Managed Abortion; Safe and Supported) also has information about how to use abortion pills and a secure online chat portal to speak with skilled counselors.

The Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline at mahotline.org/ also has instructions for how to take the pills in English and Spanish. You can text or talk to a clinician at 1-833-246-2632 if you have questions.

See videos here: https://www.howtouseabortionpill.org/online-courses/selfmanagedabortion/ 

Recent research shows that people can understand most key drug facts label concepts for a medication abortion product without clinical supervision.

How do I prepare to use abortion pills at home?

To prepare for taking abortion pills at home, abortionfinder.org recommends gathering the following supplies in advance:

  • A heating pad
  • Comfortable clothes, including comfy underwear
  • Super absorbent maxi pads
  • A blanket in case of chills
  • Ice chips and/or popsicles to suck on in case of nausea or vomiting
  • Easily digestible food like plain crackers, white rice, bananas, broth, and plain white bread
  • Something distracting, like movies, tv, magazines, coloring books, or video games
  • A friend or other support person to help, if needed

What does the process feel like?

Most individuals who use abortion pills will experience symptoms similar to a heavy period. This is a normal response to the medication. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness and fever.

How do I know they worked?

Most people can tell they are no longer pregnant soon after the abortion because their symptoms of pregnancy go away. You can take a pregnancy test 3-4 weeks after taking the pills to make sure they worked.

Why do people choose abortion pills?

Research shows that many people prefer abortion pills by telehealth because the service is private, convenient and more accessible and affordable than in-clinic care.

Is it legal to self-manage an abortion?

Abortion is legal in the United States and most U.S. territories and abortion pills are FDA-approved medications. But, where people live and how they get abortion pills can affect legal risk. 

Since 2000, prosecutors have investigated and/or criminally charged 31 people who have self-managed an abortion or helped someone else do so. These usually involve people using abortion pills later in pregnancy and people who are at higher risk of surveillance, including people with fewer financial resources, immigrants and people of color. Three states make self-managing an abortion a crime: South Carolina, Oklahoma and Nevada. 

The Repro Legal Helpline provides free and confidential legal advice that can help people better understand the laws and legal risk they may face. Contact them online or call 844-868-2812.

What steps have people taken to decrease the legal risks of self-managing an abortion?

Those who choose to use abortion pills on their own increase the legal risk if they tell friends, partners or medical providers that they took abortion pills. There is no way for a medical provider to know whether someone took abortion pills and medical providers can give appropriate follow up care without knowing whether someone took abortion pills. 

When searching for and ordering abortion pills some people use the browser Tor, which blocks trackers and ads and automatically clears your history. Other things people do to protect their identity is to turn off face ID, talk in person or over the phone, delete any period or fertility apps and leave their phones at home when they can. Others keep online purchases discreet by using cash or online currency such as Bitcoin.

How to protect your privacy when searching for abortion pills on your phone.

Ms.’s Online Abortion Provider series spotlights the wide range of new telemedicine abortion providers springing up across the country in response to the removal of longstanding FDA restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone. Explore the full collection of online abortion providers profiles:

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.