Is This the Turning Point for the Abortion Pill?

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Abortion drug Mifeprex.Photo: Del Guercio Michelle/Getty Images/Science Source

Pro-choice activists thought that the FDA’s approval of medication abortion in 2000 would change the reproductive-health landscape: Women seeking termination wouldn’t need multiple appointments for a surgical abortion. Instead, their OB/GYN could prescribe the two drugs and women could avoid picket-line harassment. Perhaps abortion would become less controversial and seen as a part of routine health care. Thanks to partisan legal battles, the abortion pill revolution hasn’t happened — yet. But Reuters reports that it might be under way.

Reuters reviewed previously unreported data from Planned Parenthood showing that medication abortions accounted for 43 percent of terminations in 2014, up from 35 percent in 2010. The overall abortion rate is declining, per federal data, so it seems that more women are opting for the abortion pill compared to surgical abortion than ever before.

The rate of medication abortions is likely even higher now following the FDA’s decision to update the prescribing guidelines in March, allowing health-care providers (not just MDs) to dispense the drugs to women up to 70 days into a pregnancy and in smaller doses that have been shown to be just as effective. Texas, Ohio, and North Dakota had passed laws requiring providers to stick to the out-of-date prescribing information and, since the FDA announcement, Reuters found that demand has tripled.

In states where there are little-to-no restrictions on medication abortion, the pill is much more popular than surgery. Medication abortions make up 55 percent of terminations in Michigan and 64 percent in Iowa, where Planned Parenthood has a robust telemedicine program. Still, the United States lags far behind European countries on this front: 80 percent of abortions in Scotland and 91 percent in Finland are from the abortion pill.

Why the Abortion Pill Didn’t Change Everything