By: Claire

If you’re considering a medical abortion, you may be wading into a whole new set of abortion terms and vocabulary. They can feel overwhelming, overmedicalized, and downright confusing. So this week, we’re breaking down common terms used when discussing medical abortion to ensure all women feel comfortable navigating their abortion health care.

Pregnancy And Abortion Terms


An abortion is the ending of a pregnancy.

Medical abortion

A medical abortion is the process of ending a pregnancy using medication. Medical abortions are generally practiced in early pregnancy (up to 10 weeks). Medical abortion is also commonly known as medication abortion or an abortion with pills.

Spontaneous abortion

A spontaneous abortion is another term for miscarriage, or the unplanned loss of a pregnancy. The symptoms of a spontaneous abortion/miscarriage are very similar to a medical abortion.

Gestational age

Gestational age is the length of the pregnancy, usually measured in weeks. The gestational age is measured from the first day of your last period. An abortion with pills is usually recommended for abortions within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. For additional support calculating the length of a pregnancy in weeks, you can refer to our blog, How To Calculate The Gestational Length Of A Pregnancy.


The uterus is the organ that houses a pregnancy. Abortion pills will cause the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy. This process involves cramping and bleeding, both of which are signs that the abortion is working.

Abortion Pill Terms

Abortion pills

The abortion pills are the medications used to terminate a pregnancy. Mifepristone and misoprostol are the two types of abortion pills. For instructions how to use the pills safely, visit our website.


Mifepristone is an abortion pill that can be used in combination with misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy. Mifepristone may also be commonly called Mifeprex, Mifegyne or RU-486. You can read instructions for an abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol here.


Misoprostol is an abortion pill that can be used in combination with mifepristone or by itself in repeated doses to end a pregnancy. Misoprostol may also go by brand names such as Cytotec, Cyprostol, and Misotrol. You can read instructions for an abortion using misoprostol only here.

Terms For Using The Abortion Pills

Routes of administration

There are different methods for using misoprostol pills safely. These methods are called “routes of administration”. The two most preferred routes of administration are buccal and sublingual administration.

Buccal administration

The word “buccal” refers to the mouth, specifically the cheeks. Using buccal administration, you place the pills between your cheeks and your lower gums. Be sure to space the pills evenly so there are two on each side of your mouth. After allowing the pills to dissolve here for 30 minutes, you drink a glass of water to swallow any remaining bits of the pills. For complete instructions, you can visit us here.

Sublingual administration

Sublingual administration means that you place the pills under your tongue (try to space them evenly so there is two on each side) and let them dissolve for 30 minutes. After these 30 minutes, you drink a glass of water to swallow any remaining bits of the pills.

Vaginal administration

Using vaginal administration, a woman places the misoprostol pills inside her vagina. We do not recommend this method of administration. Pills dissolve very slowly within the vagina, which means if you live in a region with restrictive abortion laws and need to seek emergency care, there is a chance that health providers can find evidence of the pills still inside you. Vaginal administration also has an increased risk of infection.

Pregnancy tissue

After using the abortion pills, a woman will experience heavy bleeding. She may also notice something that looks like a small dark colored grape with thin membranes, or a small sac surrounded by a white, fluffy layer. These are considered tissue from the pregnancy. Passing pregnancy tissue is a sign that the abortion is working.


A hemorrhage is sudden, uncontrolled and profuse bleeding. Though rare, it is a serious risk of medical abortion. Heavy bleeding is common after an abortion, but it’s critical to recognize the difference between normal heavy bleeding and hemorrhaging. If a woman completely soaks two menstrual pads within an hour for two hours straight (four soaked pads in total over two hours), she should seek immediate emergency care at a hospital or clinic.

Claire is a teacher, reproductive rights advocate, and the manager of