Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

The Abortion Pill

Student Contributor to Biology 103's picture

For the past few years, the introduction of RU-486 has caused heavy debate throughout
the country. Also known as the ‘abortion pill’, the use of the drug has become an
alternative to having a surgical abortion. RU-486 made the access of having abortions
easier for women to obtain. However, there are some severe consequences to taking the
abortion pill. Part of the debate over this drug is because of the health factors that it
poses and the other parts are of outside reasons. While there are dangerous side effects,
the Food and Drug Administration has allowed for the continual use of the drug and
through this approval, has made the drug legally okay to use. However, the legality of a
drug does not always mean that the drug is acceptable in or for society as some would
argue. There are people who believe otherwise, and so, this debate still continues.

RU-486, or rather now know as mifepristone, is a steroid that blocks a certain hormone.
This hormone that it blocks is progesterone, essential in sustaining pregnancy.
Progesterone acts as a jumpstart in feeding the developing child. The hormone causes the
body to get ready and prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. Mifepristone blocks this
hormone by filling up the receptors that receive progesterone. In doing so, the body halts
its preparation of nutrients for the embryo and continues with the menstrual process. The
developing child suffers and dies by starvation and is shed along with the uterine lining.

In addition to taking mifepristone, a woman is also given another drug to increase the
effectiveness of the abortion. With just mifepristone, the drug induces an abortion 65%-
85% of the time. [1] When the dosage of the hormone blocker combines with a dosage of
misoprostol, the likeliness of an abortion increases to 95%. Misoprostol is a
prostaglandin pill that furthers the process of mifepristone. RU-486 also causes the
cervix to dilate and undergo contractions that aid in detaching the embryo from the body.
The addition of misoprostol intensifies these effects that occur to the cervix. Misoprostol
is taken two days after taking mifepristone. [2]

Like all drugs, there are several side effects to using RU-486 and misoprostol. Besides
abdominal pain and uterine cramping, the most common side effects that occur include
headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Women are expected to have vaginal
bleeding because of the nature and purpose of the drug. However, extremely heavy
bleeding may be a sign of more than what the drug should be doing. Fevers, fainting, a
fast heartbeat, infections and vaginal discomfort are other indications that something is
wrong. Medical attention may be needed. [3] In much less common cases, taking RU-
486 has led the deaths of several women. [4]

The drug was not available in the United States until a few years ago because of political
and health concerns. Developed by the pharmaceutical firm Roussel-Uclaf in France,
RU-486 was released in France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The drug was banned
by the earlier Bush Administration in America and the Roussel-Uclaf company “had no
intention of marketing the drug in the U.S. or any other country where the company
perceived that political and social conditions were unreceptive to the drug.” [5] However,
it was during the Clinton administration that the use of the drug was accepted. The
administration asked the Food and Drug Administration to reevaluate the drug and
perform clinical trials. After a series of tests and attacks from pro-life advocates, the
drug was approved by the FDA in September 2000. [5]

Since then, the use of RU-486 has ‘caused’ seven deaths in North America. After using
mifepristone and misoprostol, four of the women suffered from bacterial infections. This
infection, sepsis, affects the bloodstream and induces a severe illness. According to the
FDA, however, the use of the abortion pills is not the cause of the infection. [6] Yet, there
are many people who still affiliate death with the abortion pill. When the FDA placed
stronger warning labels on the use of RU-486, others called for the drug to be taken off
the market because of the health risk that it proposes. The statistics tell a different story,
however. The numbers 1 in 100,000 patients that die from taking the RU-486 pill
implicate that it is a safe method of abortion. [7]

The question of whether or not the drug is safe is the façade to the underlying problem of
whether or not abortions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Is the drug ethnical, should women have
the right to make this choice of abortions? Perhaps the controversy is more a religious
one than a battle posed by health risks. The debate is among pro-life and pro-choice
activists with the use of RU-486 as its new core. RU-486 was the drug that was
introduced as an easy way to having an abortion without surgical operations. It is
relatively quick to take effect, usually within hours of taking the pill. [5] The pill also
allows for more discrepancy and is easily accessible to those who want it. This option
allows women more options and more freedom. The availability of RU-486, to an extent,
commercializes and desensitizes the effects of having an abortion. “An overwhelming
majority of women who choose mifepristone for medication abortion are satisfied with
the method. One study found that 97 percent of women would recommend the method to
a friend. Additionally, 91 percent of the women reported that they would choose the
mifepristone regimen again if they had to have another abortion.” [5] These statistics are
frightening because it seems that the women are not taking abortions seriously. It makes
having an abortion seem like a normal, everyday occurrence.

Despite the above statistics, there are psychological effects that come with the non-
surgical abortions. Because the release of the drug was recently, long term studies have
yet been conducted. However, the short term effects are there. Some women reported
seeing parts of their baby in the shower drain or toilet bowl. Their encounters with their
unborn child are supposedly greater than those who have surgical abortions because they
can see what their child looks like rather than having to imagine the images. [1] Does this
mean that a woman’s right to abortion should be taken away because of such possible
consequences? Those who are pro-choice say ‘yes’, and women’s choice of having
abortions is still currently theirs. Those who are pro-life and say ‘no’ are heavily
protesting the ban of RU-846.

Ethnics and religious beliefs on the topic are similar but are not quite the same. Religious
conservatives (pro-life) have been pushing for the disappearance of the drug. Their belief
that abortions are wrong stems from the belief that having an abortion is equivalent to
killing a life. But this poses the question: what is life? Does life begin with the embryo?
Or does it begin with the first, second or third trimester stages?

During the first trimester, is from the first day to the twelfth week of pregnancy. The
embryo undergoes rapid development and becomes a fetus. RU-486, in order to work, is
taken before the seventh week of pregnancy. In the seventh week of pregnancy, the baby
is five weeks old and the arms, face and legs being to appear. The pill can still work up
to the ninth week of pregnancy, and by this time, the baby has developed its ears, fingers
and toes. [1] In the second trimester, the umbilical cord thickens and continual growth of
the fetus ensures. The fetus develops enough, in this stage, to be seen as a human. This
second trimester results in the formation of the heart, lungs and kidneys of the baby. The
third trimester is last and the final developments of the baby form. [8]

When is life considered to form for humans? There are many differing opinions on when
life actually begins and what life is. To determine what life is- is subjective, I believe.
Discussions in class have shown that science is always evolving like an ongoing story in
order to find the most truth based on adaptations to our own new observations. The
debates on abortions are a result of this science; it is the challenges of belief of some
people against other some peoples. There are those people who believe that life starts
earlier and that abortions are death sentences for these unborn children and there are
others who believe otherwise and that the mothers should have the choice of what to do
to their own bodies. The drug RU-486 is contested now because it is one of the most
modern ways of getting abortions and like most inventions now, it makes something
easier and quicker to get done. However, unfortunate, death resulting from the use of this
drug is very rare but extremely controversial because of the nature of this drug’s actions.
RU-486 is like many other drugs that are approved by the FDA, it sometimes produces
certain lethal consequences to few who take them. Many of those drugs fly under the
radar, but RU-486, the abortion drug, has not been as unnoticeable.



precious's picture

Is my baby safe

I took mitepristol on the (3rd week of my pregnancy wit other abortion pill's it didn't work after 3day. I went for surgical abortion,and I thaught am okay,to my greatest surprise,I never have sex again but I went for check up again the Doctor say'sam 2months and 5day's pregnant.and that he will never conduct the surgery again that the baby is perfectly well,really I was happy because,,.my husband nw wats me to keep the now 30weeks pregant and every lab asures me that my baby is okay.but am still worried if my baby will be perfectly well without any side effecf plz I need someone to talk to me cause I don't use to sleep at night.CAN I HAVE A NORMAL CHILD

Scared's picture

Pls advice

I'm 8weeks pregnant n am doing my matric, keeping this baby wud mean I'll 2 sit dwn nxt yr n start tertiary level in 2014, n dat is time wasted.. I really don't want 2 throw away my morals n values by aborting, 4 I grew up in a family dat strongly believes in God, and I know abortion is wrong, but keeping ths bby could cost me a lot...
Pls advice me....

bobmorton's picture


This should be ban. Abortion is a form of crime killing a human life. Abortion pills should be avoided and not use by women because there will be all other side effects to them aside from loosing their unborn child.

Serendip Visitor's picture

.....What to do?

I am a 24yr old mother with a four year old son. This pregnancy was so unexpected... it's not the same father but I notice a lot of the same problems and distance from this father that the previous father showed and I don't want to struggle or go through the pain that you feel when you realize you can't provide for your child.I've been with this man for almost 3 years and never knew that everything would go down hill if I got pregnant. I'm so confused and hurt I don't want to kill my baby but I would HATE not to be able to provide for it properly either, you know? I went for my first prenatal appointment on May 20 where the doctor stated I was 8 weeks and 3 days, it's now July 10 and I haven't really been taking care of myself neither have I went for another prenatal appointment. Is an abortion by pill even still an option for me?
Please help.... What to do?

Medicinal herbs: abortion's picture

Most Latin American

Most Latin American countries, including Mexico, allow abortion if the woman's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. In November, Nicaragua bans abortion in all cases. Cuba permits abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as does the United States.

Wealthier Mexican women often travel to the United States for abortions, while thousands of poor women risk drinking potent herbal teas, taking pills or using other risky measures to abort illegally...

Serendip Visitor's picture

Still Sad

I felt trapped and scared...I was married (husband had a vesectomy) and had an affair with a close neighbor and got pregnant. I chose to end my pregnancy rather than my neighbors marraige and career and my marraige and career. I thought the pill would be more private and less tramatic for me. It is not something I am proud of and wish some days that I had not done it. I do believe the drug should stay on the market as for me it was much less tramatic than the thought of a surgical abortion, as I am sure many other women feel the same. However, if I could turn back time I probably would not have had the abortion to begin with. It was an emotionally stressful choice and experience that I never want to have to make again. (and yes for those that are curious I did eventually leave my husband and end up in a relationship with the would have been Dad and we are still together...using B/C now to ensure we do not have anymore unplanned experiences)

sae's picture


I took the abortion pill last week along with the other tablets and I was suprised how comfortable I felt through it. The cramping was not as bad as the doctor described and the bleeding was not as bad either. I was told I might have lemon-sized blood clots and that was not the case at all. The doctor did give me vicodin and high dose ibuprofen just in case of absolute misery. I am going in for a follow-up tomorrow and if the pregnancy did not terminate I will have to have a surgical abortion. supposedly it is 97% effective so we will see.

Serendip Visitor's picture

? How r u now?

Just wondering how r u now? Your status and expirence .

Anonymous's picture


i found out i was pregnant a week ago and i know i am at least two weeks pregnant. i have so much going for me and the last thing i need right now is a baby. i am going to be a senior and already have many scholarships lined up for me. i need to know if this pill is expensive and if i have to get parents' signatures in order to do this. i DO NOT want my parents to know bc my dad already said he would kill the guy if he ever found out i was pregnant. and i am in a sticky situation bc the state i am living in says abortions are illegal.... can anyone help??

Anonymous's picture



Chinni's picture

Regarding the side efeects of temination


I was 6weeks pregnant and had taken mifepristone tablet, everything went on normal, but still on the 7th day i had slight abdominal pain, why is this happening.will this effect my future pregnancies.

Exactly i want to know why iam getting abodimial pain, no other signs other than pain.

Please help me and give me all the details

waiting fo ur prompt reply

trina's picture

i hate myself for takin this

i hate myself for takin this pill an ending my babys life ='[

Anonymous's picture

the abortion pill

im four weeks pregnant and thinking aboute takeing this pill. im so upset for what i may have to do. but im also confused. one day i feel happy im pregnant then the next im sad. i dont know what to do. i already have a 2 year old with someone else and i want my kids to have the same farther. but this is a human life not something i can forget forever.