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What You Need to Know About the Fight Over the Abortion Pill

Packages of Mifepristone tablets

Packages of Mifepristone tablets

Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images 


Medication abortion is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the US. Access to it is under threat given a lawsuit attempting to revoke the Food and Drug Administration’s two-decade-old approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. In April, a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling suspending the drug’s clearance. The Supreme Court restored the status quo — while an appeal of the ruling is adjudicated starting May 17. A conclusive judgment revoking mifepristone’s clearance would further curtail access to legal abortion at a time when it’s already been significantly reduced in the US. It would also open the door to challenges to other FDA approvals.

France was the first Western country to approve mifepristone to terminate pregnancies in 1988. Since then more than 70 countries have followed. Mifepristone works by blocking progesterone, a hormone that’s necessary for a pregnancy to continue. In the US, it is approved for use up until the 10-week gestation point. Doctors prescribe it with misoprostol, a drug used to treat stomach ulcers that can also induce contractions. When taken together, the two pills have been found to effectively end pregnancies with no further intervention about 98% of the time.