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RU-486: The Abortion Pill

RU-486: The Abortion Pill



What is RU-486?
Who can I talk to for help in making the decision to use RU-486?
How does RU-486 work?
How reliable is RU-486?
How do you take RU-486?
What are the risks of RU-486?
Is RU-486 the same as the morning after pill?
Can I get RU-486 without parental permission?


What is RU-486?
RU-486, also known as the abortion pill, is a medication that causes the termination of an early pregnancy. It has been used around the world in place of surgical abortions. Recently, RU-486 became available in the United States. back to top

Who can I talk to for help in making the decision to use RU-486?
If you are thinking about terminating a pregnancy, you will benefit from talking to someone about it, because it is a big life decision. A trained medical counselor is a good person to hear your concerns and thoughts. Some girls and women feel very sad after terminating a pregnancy and really need a supportive adult to help them sort out their feelings. A doctor or another health professional can recommend a counselor to help you deal emotionally with the decision. back to top

How does RU-486 work?
RU-486 involves the use of two different pills. The first pill contains a medication called mifepristone. When taken, this medication blocks the action of the hormone progesterone that is needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Without progesterone, the pregnancy will die, and a miscarriage will occur.

Two days after taking mifepristone, a second pill must be taken that contains a medication called misoprostol. This second medication makes the uterus contract and push out the pregnancy tissue. This is similar to what happens in a natural miscarriage.

Taking RU-486 is very different from having a surgical abortion. A surgical abortion must be performed in a hospital or clinic by a doctor. Local anesthesia and sedation is used during the procedure. The actual abortion takes approximately 10 minutes and the process is complete as soon as the procedure is over.

In comparison, a medical abortion with RU-486 requires a few visits to the doctor to take the medications. There is no surgery. The person goes home and waits for the pregnancy tissue to be expelled within several days. However, the person using RU-486 may experience side effects, such as strong cramping and heavy bleeding. back to top

How reliable is RU-486?
Approximately 92% of the time, RU-486 leads to the complete termination of a pregnancy. That means that 8% of the women or girls who take RU-486 will end up needing a surgical abortion procedure to remove pregnancy tissue that did not come out on its own. back to top

How do you take RU-486?
RU-486 can only be used in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Since most women and girls do not find out they are pregnant until they miss a menstrual period, RU-486 can only be used in the three weeks after you miss your period.

In order to use RU-486, it is very important that the pregnant person takes a pregnancy test as soon as she suspects that she may be pregnant. Her doctor will examine her and order an ultrasound test to be sure that the pregnancy is still in its earliest stages.

Once her doctor determines that the pregnancy is less than seven weeks along, the person takes the first pill at the doctor’s office. It begins working within several hours and the person may experience side effects such as bleeding and cramping, which are sometimes severe. Most people find that they need to take medication to help with the pain.

A few people will expel the pregnancy tissue without needing further medication, but most have to return to the doctor’s office in 48 hours to take the second pill. The medication contained in the second pill stimulates the uterus to push out the pregnancy tissue within 4 to 24 hours. The person may continue to have bleeding and cramping until all the pregnancy tissue is expelled. After the pregnancy tissue is expelled, the bleeding and cramping should lessen quite a bit. But the bleeding may continue for another two to four weeks. Other side effects of RU-486 include nausea and vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.

The person must have another check up 14 days after starting RU-486. At this visit, the doctor makes sure that the pregnancy has ended and all the tissue has been pushed out. back to top

What are the risks of RU-486?
Approximately 8% of people will need to have a surgical abortion after taking RU-486. That usually happens when the pregnancy tissue does not completely come out of the uterus and the bleeding and cramping continue.

Another risk of using RU-486 is the possibility of birth defects. The chance of this happening is extremely rare and can only occur if RU-486 does not work and the person chooses to continue the pregnancy. back to top

Is RU-486 the same as the morning after pill?
No, RU-486 is quite different from the morning after pill. The morning after pill can only be used in the first 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. It prevents a pregnancy from starting by not letting a fertilized egg implant in the wall of the uterus. RU-486 is used after a pregnancy is well established (up to 5 weeks after fertilization) and causes a termination of the pregnancy. back to top

Can I get RU-486 without parental permission?
Although many states require that a parent is notified before a minor can terminate a pregnancy (which includes getting a surgical abortion or using RU-486), almost all states have a way to get around that requirement. To avoid getting parental permission, typically a teen must appear before a judge to demonstrate that she is mature enough to make the decision to end her pregnancy. If the judge agrees, she can choose to have an abortion. In addition, even if the judge does not feel that the teen is mature enough to make the decision, the judge can decide to allow her to have an abortion without her parents knowing about it. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/4/2001