Slacker’s Syllabus: Medication Abortion

In America, the right to abortion has long been under attack. During the pandemic, however, people were able to receive a prescribed abortion pill by mail. In December of 2021, the F.D.A. made the option permanent — a huge win as far accessability goes.

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Unfortunately, people who live in one of the 19 states where it’s prohibited will still have to travel to states where it is legal for their virtual appointments and to pick up meds. This restriction will impact some people more than others.

The logistical hurdle of unnecessary travel to health centers during a dangerous pandemic only creates more barriers to care, especially for people of color and people with low incomes.

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Some activists think the F.D.A.’s ruling is only a partial win because it excludes some of the people who may need it most and may have an impact on brick-and-mortar clinics.

Activists are still fighting to make medication abortion available to every American.

Medication abortion gives patients the option to end their pregnancy at home or in another setting in which they feel comfortable, while still providing them with the medical support and information they need.

Meera Shah

Medication abortion has actually been approved by the F.D.A. for more than 20 years and has a proven track record of safety.

“Bans on the use of telehealth for abortion, who is allowed to dispense the medication, or mandating providers to tell patients the unproven claim that medication abortion can be ‘reversed’ — are not based in science or medical evidence and do nothing to improve patient’s health and safety,” Shah explains.

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Medication abortion is non-surgical, doesn’t require aneasthesia, and is about 98% effective.

The abortion pill is actually two pills— mifepristone and misoprostol — and can generally be used up to 77 days, or 11 weeks, after the first day of a pregnant person’s last menstrual period, Shah explains.

Medication abortion works by first taking a pill called mifepristone, which blocks the body’s own progesterone and stops a pregnancy from growing. The second medicine, misoprostol, is taken either right away or up to 48 hours later.

This medicine causes cramping and bleeding to empty your uterus. It’s kind of like having a really heavy, crampy period, and the process is very similar to an early miscarriage, Shah explains.

Shah says that for most people, medication abortion is like an early miscarriage. Some people might have bleeding or cramping, feel nauseous, have diarrhea, or have temporary mild fever or chills.

Most of these side effects are mild and can be reduced with OTC meds like acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil), says Shah.

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“You can access medication abortion from a doctor, nurse, and certain health clinics, including many Planned Parenthood health centers. Even if your local Planned Parenthood health center doesn't provide medication abortion, they can give you information about other providers in your area,” says Shah.

But, Shah says, be careful who you trust. Some “crisis pregnancy centers” are actually fake clinics run by people who want to scare people out of getting an abortion.

If you want to learn more about accessing medication abortion, check out Planned Parenthood’s guide to the abortion pill.

If you’re interested in helping activists keep abortion safe and legal, check out Shout Your Abortion.

If you want to hear the real world stories of people who have had abortions told by a prominent abortion provider and activist, read Meera Shah’s You’re The Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion.

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