A-Z Health Topics

Return to Index
by Walsh B

Therapeutic Abortion: Medical

(Abortion; Mifeprex; Mifepristone; RU-486)


Therapeutic abortion is the ending of a pregnancy on purpose. A medical abortion is done by taking medications. This procedure is done in early pregnancy. It can be done up to 8 weeks.
This process is not the same as emergency contraception. An abortion ends an established pregnancy. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy.
Female Reproductive Organs
Femal repro organs
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

A therapeutic abortion may be done to:
  • Preserve the mother’s physical and mental health
  • End a pregnancy that tests have shown would result in a child with severe abnormalities

Possible Complications

Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have an abortion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Incomplete procedure
A medical abortion is unsuccessful about 5%-10% of the time. If the abortion was not complete, you may need more medication or a surgical abortion to end the pregnancy.
It is best to do the procedure as early in the pregnancy as possible. This decreases the chance of complications. If you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. The earlier you find out, the more time you have to make an informed choice about the pregnancy. Early symptoms of pregnancy include:
  • A missed period
  • Tender, swollen breasts
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor may:
  • Examine you to determine the stage of your pregnancy by checking the size of the uterus
  • Do blood and urine tests to confirm the pregnancy
  • Use ultrasound to give an accurate assessment of the stage of pregnancy


No anesthesia will be used.

Description of Procedure

  • First, you take a medication in your doctor's office. The medication stops the pregnancy. Depending on the medication used, it may be given by mouth, as a shot, or it may be inserted into the vagina.
  • The first step is often followed by giving another type of medication 1-3 days later.
  • Lastly, your doctor makes sure the procedure is complete by doing an ultrasound or a blood test.

How Long Will It Take?

The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The amount of time depends on the specific medications used.

Will It Hurt?

You may:
  • Feel lightheaded
  • Have strong cramps
  • Feel nauseous
  • Have temporary abdominal pain
  • Have temporary mild fever or chills
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce most of these symptoms. Do not take aspirin unless directed to by your doctor.

Post-procedure Care

After a therapeutic abortion:
  • You may have cramps and bleeding.
  • You may also have nausea and diarrhea.
  • You should not douche or use vaginal medications until your doctor allows it.
  • You can shower or bathe.
  • Do not have sex for at least 1 week.
  • You should recover within a couple of days.
  • Make sure you return to see your doctor for follow-up.
Sudden hormone changes may increase natural feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, and regret. Most doctors can offer or refer you to follow-up counseling.

Call Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing or you develop complications such as:
  • Fever
  • Increasing abdominal pain
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (greater than 1 pad per hour)
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters


Induced abortion. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115505/Induced-abortion. Updated June 22, 2016. Accessed Accessed December 28, 2016.
Medical abortion procedures. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/unplanned-pregnancy/medical-abortions/. Updated September 3, 2016. Accessed December 28, 2016.
Abortion services. Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region website. Available at: http://www.rqhealth.ca/womens-and-childrens-health/therapeutic-abortion. Accessed December 28, 2016.
What is medical abortion? National Abortion Federation website. Available at: http://www.prochoice.org/about%5Fabortion/facts/medical%5Fabortion.html. Accessed December 28, 2016.
1/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115505/Induced-abortion: Robson SC, Kelly T, Deverill M, et al. Randomised preference trial of medical versus surgical termination of pregnancy less than 14 weeks' gestation (TOPS). Health Technol Assess. 2009;13(53):1-124.

Revision Information