More than half of US abortions are now done with pills rather than surgery, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
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The FDA in 2000 approved mifepristone to terminate pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, when used with a second drug, misoprostol. Mifepristone is taken first to dilate the cervix and block the hormone progesterone, which is needed to sustain a pregnancy. Misoprostol is taken 24 to 48 hours later, causing the uterus to contract and expel pregnancy tissue.
Bleeding is a common side-effect but serious complications are very rare. The FDA says more than 3.7 million US women have used mifepristone since its approval.
Several FDA-mandated safety requirements remain in effect, including training requirements to certify that prescribers can provide emergency care in the case of excessive bleeding. Pharmacies that dispense the pills also need a certification.