In data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of all abortions — and 54 percent of abortions before 10 weeks — took place with medication in 2019, the most recent year for which CDC data is available. (The report represents most of the country, but does not include data from California, Maryland, and New Hampshire.)
By 2020, the method will account for a majority of abortions in some states, including Indiana, Kansas and Minnesota, according to health department reports.
The CDC also reported that 79 percent of all abortions occurred before 10-week gestation, suggesting many more women would prefer abortion pills to an in-clinic procedure if they could.
Medicated abortion, a two-drug regimen, was approved in the United States in 2000. The FDA imposed restrictions on the first drug, mifepristone, and required it to be dispensed in clinics or hospitals by specially certified health care providers, who had to sign a specific agreement and obtain the patient’s signature on a form confirming that their supplier gave them informed about the drug. Under the rules, patients could take mifepristone at home or wherever they wanted, making it the only drug the agency required patients to get in person from a medical provider but not take under medical supervision, experts say.
The second drug, misoprostol, which is taken up to 48 hours after the first, has long been available on a regular prescription from pharmacies.
Mainstream medical organizations and abortion rights groups have long urged the government to relax restrictions on mifepristone, citing data indicating that mifepristone is effective and safe, including when delivered by mail.
For example, a research program that allowed the FDA to provide telemedicine consultations and mail pills reported that 95 percent of the 1,157 abortions performed through the program between May 2016 and September 2020 were completed without the need for a follow-up procedure. Patients made 70 visits to emergency rooms or urgent care centers, with 10 cases of serious complications, the study reported.