It happens: you’re faced with an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. What are your options? In South Africa, there are two forms of legal abortion: surgical and medical termination of pregnancy. A surgical abortion is allowed from four to 20 weeks of pregnancy, while a medical abortion (also known as the abortion pill) is an option for women between the four- and nine-week pregnancy mark. If you’re still in the early stages of your pregnancy and would prefer to avoid the surgical route, here’s what you need to know about the abortion pill.
What Is The Abortion Pill And How Does It Work?
The abortion pill is, in fact, two medications used together to end a pregnancy: Mifepristone and Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec). Mifepristone blocks the body’s ability to produce progesterone, which stops the pregnancy from developing. Without this hormone, pregnancy can’t continue, says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Elmarie Basson.
The other pill, Misoprostol, induces labour. This tablet is taken six to 48 hours after the first pill and is inserted vaginally. Misoprostol causes cramping and bleeding to remove the embryo from the uterus. This cramping and bleeding can last for several hours. It’s basically an extremely heavy period, but don’t worry – your doc will explain how to handle the pain and heavy bleeding.
When Can I Take It And How Much Does It Cost?
The abortion pill is most effective if taken before 70 days (nine weeks) of gestation, explains Dr Basson. She explains that after 70 days, there is a risk of an “incomplete termination”, which can require surgery. The medication can only be prescribed by a doctor and costs about R650.
What Are The Risks?
Like every medication, there are risks to taking the abortion pill. Dr Basson explains the four most common ones:
- Incomplete abortion, leading to surgical termination.
- The pill can also lead to endometritis, an infection of the uterus.
- Sustaining a haemorrhage is possible, either due to uterine atony (failure of the uterus to contract) or retained products of conception.
- Teratogenic risk (abnormal growth) with an ongoing pregnancy.
If you would like to learn more about legal abortions and your options, check out Marie Stopes SA.