Lady Smarts Everything you need to know about the abortion pill

Under the Trump-Pence administration, some of these truths may turn into things of the past.

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Pharmacy Council targets 2019 deadline for e-pharmacy registration play

Pharmacy Council targets 2019 deadline for e-pharmacy registration

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Will your access to it change under the Trump administration?

Truth #1: As of 2013, 20 percent of abortions in the U.S. were medical (a.k.a. nonsurgical) abortions performed using the abortion pill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Truth #2: The abortion pill was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000.

Truth #3: Roe vs. Wade made abortions legal in the U.S. 43 years ago.

All of the above are, in fact, facts. But under the Trump-Pence administration, some of these truths may turn into things of the past.

After all, Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed off on every single anti-abortion bill he encountered as governor of Indiana, The Guardian reports. And at an MSNBC town hall meeting during his campaign, Trump said "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who undergo abortions. (Though as NPR reports, he later backpedaled on these views, instead saying that if abortions were made illegal then "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.")

With that in mind, here's what you need to know about the abortion pill, and how a woman's right to access this medication might be affected under the new administration.

1. It's actually two separate pills, and neither are used for late-term abortions.

Here's how the abortion pill actually works: First, a woman takes pill number one, mifepristone, which works to counteract progesterone in the body (progesterone helps foster an environment that allows the fetus to grow and thrive, according to the National Infertility Association). Then, within the next 24 to 48 hours she take pill number two, misoprostol, which causes contractions that end the pregnancy.

Bleeding and cramping occur shortly after, similar to what a woman would experience during a spontaneous miscarriage, says Daniel Grossman, M.D., director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research organization. Finally, a physician followup confirms through an ultrasound, blood test, or urine test that the pills were effective.

According to the FDA, medication abortions can only be performed before the 10th week of pregnancy. Surgical abortions can be performed up to 14 weeks after a woman's last period.

2. It's different from the morning-after pill.

While emergency contraception, such as Plan B, is taken after unprotected sex to delay ovulation and prevent pregnancy from occurring, medication abortion ends a pregnancy that's already in the works, in a method similar to a miscarriage. "More than 28 million women have used the two-pill medication abortion regimen and it has an excellent safety profile," says Grossman. "[But] if you take emergency contraception after pregnancy is established, it won't work," he adds.

3. The complication rate is very low.

"Less than 2 percent of women who have medication abortions experience complications—that's less than the complication rate for childbirth," says Diane Horvath-Cosper, M.D., an ob-gyn in Baltimore and reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health. In states with only a few doctors who provide surgical abortions, more than 50 percent of abortions are done via medicine. But because it's newer, "there are still more regulatory hurdles imposed and an extra layer of scrutiny," says Grossman.

4. Things might get complicated if some states restrict access to the abortion pill.

While it is yet to be seen how women's reproductive rights will change under a Trump presidency, Horvath-Cosper says she "would be surprised if nothing changes about abortion access under the new administration." Grossman agrees, saying he anticipates restrictions will focus on limiting access to these medication abortions. (That doesn't necessarily mean it'll stop them from happening, though: According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, more abortions take place in countries where the procedure is prohibited than in countries where access is available by request.)

Luckily, short of totally repealing Roe vs. Wade, Trump won't be able to directly ban access to abortion pills. As of now, the abortion pill is available in all 50 states, but states have different rules about who can prescribe it and whether a woman must take it in a medical office, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only time will tell if those rules will get stricter in coming years.

5. You can't stockpile, but you can make your voice heard.

In an editorial for The New York Times, writer Lindy West wrote, "We have abortion pills to stockpile and neighbors to protect and children to teach." Many women echoed West's statement with callouts via social media urging women to hoard abortion pills and birth control. But "it's not legal to hoard abortion pills, even as a doctor," says Grossman. "You can—and should—stay informed and let your elected officials know how you feel though." Follow his three-pronged plan:

  1. Talk to your doctor about which birth control methods make the most sense for your lifestyle and goals.

  2. Follow developments and new policy decisions regarding birth control and abortion (we'll have the latest updates for you here.)

  3. Contact your local legislators via phone, preferably, or email to let them know how you feel about reproductive rights.

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