Medical abortion

If you are thinking of ending your pregnancy, there are two different types of abortion that may be available to you: medical abortion and surgical abortion.

There are differences to each procedure, and you will want to think about whether medical or surgical abortion is best for you.

What is medical abortion

A medical abortion is a safe and effective method of using medication to end a pregnancy.

Also known as the ‘abortion pill’, medical abortion involves taking one or two different types of medicine - mifepristone and misoprostol - at different times. Where available, these drugs are typically used in combination to complete a medical abortion, but misoprostol can be used on its own.

Medical abortion works best in early pregnancy, up to 9 weeks, and can be done as soon as you miss your period. It is recommended by doctors around the world and the World Health Organization as a safe and non-invasive alternative to surgical abortion.

Many women prefer this method of abortion because it can be done at home at a time convenient to you, either in privacy or with your friends and family with you for support.

How does medical abortion work

If you are using both mifepristone and misoprostol for abortion, then you will take the mifepristone first. This will detach the pregnancy from the uterus (womb) and makes the womb more receptive to the misoprostol. The misoprostol, taken later, will then cause contractions of the womb, and soften the cervix to allow your body to expel the pregnancy.

Mifepristone and misoprostol are commonly used in combination, but misoprostol can be used on its own. Misoprostol can be taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina - a healthcare professional will discuss each method with you, or you can read our frequently asked questions for more information.

Mariprist contains both mifepristone and misoprostol and you can read step-by-step instructions on how to take it on this website.

When can medical abortion be used

Medical abortion is extremely effective in early pregnancy. Mariprist can be used up to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Use our pregnancy calculator to work out how many weeks pregnant you are.

Whether you can have a medical or surgical abortion will also depend on the laws in your country. The Centre for Reproductive Rights gives up-to-date information on abortion laws around the world.

What can you expect from a medical abortion

A medical abortion resembles a natural early miscarriage. You can expect cramps and moderate to heavy vaginal bleeding with passage of clots, throughout and after.

The cramping and bleeding can last for several hours, but will slow down after the pregnancy tissue comes out. Most women finish passing the pregnancy tissue in 4-5 hours, but it may take longer. You may also have cramping on and off for 1 or 2 more days, which can be managed with over the counter pain relief. It’s normal to have some bleeding and spotting for several weeks after your abortion.

You can also expect to experience some other side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and low grade fever. Read more information about side effects.

After a medical abortion

It is rare that you will need a follow-up with a healthcare professional, as this normally only happens if the abortion was unsuccessful. In this instance, you may receive medication to prepare and dilate (gently open) your cervix, and will then have a surgical evacuation of the uterus. This is also known as dilation and evacuation (D&E).

Feelings after an abortion can vary. Most women feel relieved, but some also feel sad or guilty. Occasionally, although you might feel well physically, it could lead to an emotional struggle. This range of emotions is completely normal. It can help to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, or call an MSI Reproductive Choices contact centre.

If you are looking to prevent future pregnancy, most hormonal methods of contraception can be started with the first dose of medical abortion pill. IUD insertion and female sterilisation can occur once the abortion is confirmed as complete. Speak to your doctor about your options, or take a look at our information about contraception to see which method is best for you.

Read about surgical abortion

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