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Back To Basics: Understanding Medical Abortion

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Making safe medical abortion information visible

Thus far, 2018 has proven to be a busy year for HowToUse. We launched our online medical abortion course for pharmacists; we attended the 2018 Inroads conference in Croatia; we added 10 new country profiles on abortion access (and more soon to come!); and we spearheaded a successful World Health Day campaign that was a (not so) subtle reminder that #HealthForAllIncludesChoiceForWomen.

And now, as we come to terms with the fact that we are somehow already at the end of April, our team would like to take the time to pause from our ongoing projects and publish a blog post that returns to the basics: clear information about safe medical abortion.

Here is the great irony that we’re up against: despite the fact that medical abortion is one of the safest, most effective ways to terminate an early pregnancy, very few women know about it. Even fewer understand how it works, and fewer still are clear about where to find it.

That’s where HowToUse comes in. We may be expanding into new areas of safe abortion advocacy, but our mission will always be firmly rooted in safe information access. If you like what you read in this blog post, we invite you to share it widely. The more we circulate this information, the more visible it becomes for women who may need it.

Reviewing the basics of safe medical abortion

So let’s start here: medical abortion is the technical name for an abortion with pills. The two types of pills that can be used for a safe medical abortion are called mifepristone and misoprostol (also commonly known as cytotec). You can find full instructions for the safe use of medical abortion pills on our website.

How does a medical abortion actually work? In all honesty, it is not that much different from a natural miscarriage.

During both a medical abortion and a natural miscarriage, the cervix (the opening to the uterus) will slightly expand and the uterus (the organ that houses a pregnancy) will begin to contract. These coordinated events cause the blood lining of the uterus, along with the implanted embryo, to be pushed out from the body.

The contracting uterus causes women to experience both cramping and bleeding. The cramping and bleeding associated with medical abortion is usually greater than what women commonly experience during a menstrual period. However, just like menstruation, there are steps that a woman can take during a medical abortion to make herself more comfortable. Taking pain medication (like ibuprofen), resting a hot water bottle on the abdomen, and finding a quiet, relaxing space to rest are all ways of mitigating discomfort.

Research recommends medical abortion for women only within their first 10 weeks of pregnancy. However, anti-abortion lobbyists around the world commonly support legislation to lower the gestational age limit and restrict women’s access to medical abortion. The circumstances in which a woman can legally access a medical abortion will depend on the country she lives in.

Roughly 98% of women will have a medical abortion without any complications. The approximate 2% who do experience a complication can seek support in a hospital or clinic. In countries where abortion is legally restricted, women may choose not to admit to having induced a medical abortion, as this may lead to legal ramifications. So long as there is no evidence remaining of the pills, she can instead claim that she is experiencing a spontaneous miscarriage.

Though medical abortions are statistically safer than giving birth, it is important that women fully understand the process before they begin. HowToUse is committed to sharing information about medical abortion in 23 languages. Visit our site to learn more, or follow us on any of our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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