Complications from the Abortion Pill(s)

Bottle of pills and a syringe

In 2015, the #ShoutYourAbortion Twitter campaign drew a lot of attention encouraging women all over the country to share their abortion stories. It was an attempt to portray abortion as normal, and to show that women live after an abortion without "sadness, shame or regret."

However, it's a false promise.

There's a lot of misinformation about abortion through media outlets and social media. Advocates and activists often say that an abortion is safer than having your tonsils removed or that the abortion pill is safer than Tylenol, but that's not the case. There are a variety of physical reactions that women experience, some potentially life-threatening. She may also encounter emotional issues that affect her for the rest of her life. Abortion is not a "safe, simple medical procedure."

What is the Abortion Pill?

The "abortion pill" is actually a combination of two different medications taken 24-48 hours apart. The pills can be used up to 10 weeks of gestation, but most chemical abortions occur before the 8th week.32% of abortions under 8 weeks are chemical abortions.

Around 25 percent of women purchase the abortion pill, also known as a chemical or medical abortion, over a surgical abortion.

During a chemical abortion, a woman is given 200 mg of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, to take at the abortion center, usually under the abortionist's supervision. Mifepristone starves the preborn baby of oxygen and food by blocking the essential pregnancy hormone progesterone. As a result, the preborn usually dies.

Abortion Pill Reversal: Though controversial, it is possible to reverse the effects of the mifepristone but action must be taken quickly. Providers can give a woman a high dose of progesterone to counteract the effects of mifepristone within 24-72 hours after the initial dose. Women can visit abortionpillreversal.com or call (877) 558-0333 to see if treatment is possible. The reversal rate is approximately 55 percent.

To help expel the dead preborn baby, a woman takes misoprostol at home 24-48 hours after taking the dose of mifepristone at the abortion center. The dosage of misoprostol is too high for a single pill, 800mcg, so a woman must take four at once. These can be taken orally, by placing them between the gums and the cheeks where the pills dissolve, or vaginally. It has been discovered that taking mifepristone vaginally has a higher rate of infection and death, so most providers tell the women to take the pills orally.

Misoprostol causes the uterus to contract producing what is essentially an unnatural miscarriage after the mifepristone has (likely) killed the preborn baby. A follow up appointment is scheduled for two days later to determine if the abortion was successful. If incomplete, the woman has the option of taking another round of drugs or having a surgical abortion. About 20 percent of women never follow up with the abortionist who administered the drugs.

To help with pain management and prevent an infection, women are also given antibiotics, an anti-nausea medication and Tylenol with codeine (an opiate). The antibiotics are meant to protect against infection from an incomplete abortion and chlamydia. Doctors believe that chlamydia itself has a contributing influence on infection rates and antibiotics are prescribed as a precaution to avoid waiting 24-48 hours for the results of the sexually transmitted disease test.

Common Chemical Abortion Reactions:

  • Pain: Usually connected to the use of misoprostol and the uterine contractions or cramps it produces. Women can experience something similar to menstrual cramping or pain so intense that they visit the emergency room. Pain is usually more intense the later a woman is in her pregnancy (9-10 weeks).
  • Bleeding: This can potentially last for several weeks, and can be severe enough to require a transfusion. Every woman will experience this symptom, and it is more common the earlier a woman is in her pregnancy.
  • Also, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, and fever.

Women experience most these normal reactions, which can sometimes last for several days or weeks. About one in five women contact the abortion seller with concerns about the abortion process.

Chemical Abortion Complications:

  • Hemorrhaging: Bleeding is one of the most common severe complications with a chemical abortion. About 15.6 percent of women are hospitalized and/or have a blood transfusion. The risk of hemorrhage increases for women who are ages 20-24. Hemorrhage in chemical abortions is eight times higher than for surgical abortions.
  • Infection/Sepsis: A woman, whether having a miscarriage, abortion or childbirth, can get an infection. This is especially true in abortion where this condition is often downplayed and a woman is often unsupervised after her initial appointment. Infection is often the most fatal for women after a chemical abortion.
  • Undiagnosed Ectopic Pregnancy: If a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo attaches somewhere other than the uterus and the baby usually cannot survive, she requires more specialized care. A woman who has an ectopic pregnancy should not have a chemical abortion as it can cause her to hemorrhage and result in death.
  • Incomplete Abortion: Despite proclamations to the contrary, incomplete abortions happen in at least 6-10 percent of chemical abortions. If this happens, a woman has the option of taking another misoprostol dose or having a surgical abortion. The failure rate starts to increase after the 9th week of pregnancy. The incidence of an incomplete abortion increases if the women have had a previous abortion.
  • Uterus Rupture: In rare circumstances, the use of misoprostol can cause a woman's uterus to rupture if she is given too much of the medication. For chemical abortions, this is a concern as the treatment for an unsuccessful abortion is an additional dose of misoprostol. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently extended the time period a woman can take mifepristone and misoprostol from 9 weeks to 10 weeks, which increases the likelihood of an overdose because a woman will have to take more misoprostol to complete the abortion.
  • Death: In rare instances, an abortion can kill not only the preborn child but also the mother. The first widely publicized case of death after a chemical abortion was Holly Patterson. At 18-years-old, Holly went to Planned Parenthood for a chemical abortion. She died of septic shock a couple of days later due to an incomplete abortion despite repeatedly calling Planned Parenthood for help and going to two separate emergency rooms for treatment.

Most of these complications are magnified the further along a woman is in her pregnancy, especially for an incomplete abortion. According to the FDA, the abortion pill should only be used up to 10 weeks of pregnancy; however the Centers for Disease and Prevention report on abortion shows that those regulations are not always followed. Chemical abortion occurs at least to the 21st week of pregnancy, which is double the gestational age recommended. For a drug that is supposedly "highly regulated," reports that the drug was administered outside the prescribed protocol are disturbing.

Conclusion

To help make the use of chemical abortions more acceptable, activists over emphasize the "ease" and "comfort" of this deadly medical event. This gives patients the abortion pill the perception of "safety, convenience, and privacy," but that's not necessarily the case. The reality is that chemical abortions are potentially even more dangerous than surgical ones because abortionists invite women to take dangerous drugs with potentially fatal health complications with limited medical oversight. Of course, it's never safe for the baby.