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More U.S. women who get abortions are choosing the pill method

by Kayla Ruble
Nov 1 2016, 7:01am

Abortion rates continue to decline across the U.S., but for women who choose to end their pregnancies, they’re increasingly choosing the pill method over the surgical method, according to data reported by Reuters this week.

The so-called abortion pill was approved for use relatively recently, in 2000, but it now accounts for nearly half the market for abortion methods. In some states, the rate is even higher. In Michigan and Iowa, more than half of the women ending their pregnancies are doing it via medication, Reuters reported. At Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, the prescription-pill method made up 43 percent of the pregnancy-terminating services in 2014, up from 35 percent just four years earlier.

The method, used only in the first trimester, involves doses of two drugs, mifepristone (RU-486) and misoprostol, over a 48-hour period. The medication starts to take effect within hours of the final misoprostol doses and the abortion is typically finished in about 12 hours. Unlike for a surgical procedure, women do not have to be in a medical facility or doctor’s office during this phase. Cost-wise, the two methods are about the same: The median cost of surgical was $495, vs. $500 for medication, according to a Guttmacher Institute report in 2012.

In the 16 years since the abortion pill became available, 2.75 million women across the country have taken it. For most of its time on the market, doctors could prescribe the pill up to 49 days into a pregnancy. New guidance from the FDA earlier this year, however, opened the window to 70 days.

In the five months since then, the number of women in Texas, Ohio, and North Dakota seeking this abortion method increased 30 percent, Reuters reported. All three states have very strict rules for how local doctors can prescribe the pills. Unlike most medications, legislations in these states prevent physicians from prescribing the drugs off-label, meaning they can’t vary dosage levels or prescription timelines not explicitly outlined by the FDA.

Overall, the abortion rate in the U.S. is down to 16.9 per 1,000 women compared to 21.3 per 1,000 women in 2000.