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Elective Medical Abortion

Alternate Names

  • induced abortion
  • interruption of pregnancy
  • Female reproductive organs

Definition

When a woman chooses to end a pregnancy, the procedure is called an elective abortion.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Any woman who chooses to end a pregnancy for health or personal reasons is a candidate for an elective abortion. Abortions are legal in the United States during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortion is regulated by each state.

How is the procedure performed?

Before an abortion is done, a healthcare professional must confirm that a woman is pregnant. The length of a pregnancy will be measured either by noting the number of days that have passed since the first day of her last menstrual period, known as the LMP, or by an ultrasound. A medical abortion can be done as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed.
Because medical abortions do not work as well later in pregnancy, they are not generally used beyond 7 weeks after the last menstrual period. Thus, it is important to establish the exact stage of the pregnancy using an ultrasound examination. After 7 weeks, an elective surgical abortion must be used.
Medicines used for a medical abortion include:
  • methotrexate (i.e., Rheumatrex, Trexall) , a medicine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for cancer treatment. Methotrexate is most often given as a shot, but it also can be taken by mouth. Methotrexate, when taken during the first few weeks after conception, stops the embryo from growing in the uterus.
  • mifepristone (i.e., Mifeprex), known as RU-486, has been approved by the FDA for medical abortions. Mifepristone works by blocking the female hormone progesterone. As a result, the lining of the uterus breaks down and is passed out of the uterus, along with the unborn child, through the cervix.
  • misoprostol (i.e., Cytotec), which is taken a few days after the woman takes either methotrexate or mifepristone. Misoprostol is given by tablets that are either swallowed or inserted into the vagina. It causes the uterus to contract and expel the unborn child through the vagina.
To prepare for an abortion, a pelvic exam is done to confirm the size of the uterus. Lab studies will rule out anemia, determine the woman's Rh factor, and screen for sexually transmitted infections. The woman should be taught what to expect during and after the procedure, and psychological support should be given as needed.

Sources

"What Is Medical Abortion? Fact Sheet." National Abortion Federation, 2000, Mueller et al.

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