For the first time, women taking medication to end pregnancies is almost equal to those having abortion surgery.
Although the pill to end pregnancies was invented in 1988, it has taken nearly three decades for it to reach widespread popularity for U.S. women. A Reuters analysis of U.S. abortion data found that medication abortions were 43 percent of the procedure performed at Planned Parenthood in 2014, up from 35 percent four years earlier.
Those numbers are likely even higher in 2016, because the government changed the prescribing guidelines for prescription abortion in March. The pills can now be prescribed up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, up from seven. The move also decreased the required clinical visits and allowed medical officials other than physicians to dispense the medication. Dosing guidelines were also changed.
Prescription abortion involves taking two drugs over a one- or two-day period. Pregnancy hormone progesterone is blocked by mifepristone. Then a women takes misoprostol, which induces uterine contractions. Many women prefer this process over surgery because it can be done in the privacy of their own homes. It is 95 percent effective, studies show.
But although it was expected women would prefer that method to surgery at a clinic, some doctors have hesitated to prescribe the drugs to women who want to end a pregnancy. Some say they wanted to avoid their clinics becoming site of the type of protests staged outside Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion activists.
Many women taking medication to end their pregnancy still get it from Planned Parenthood, with an estimated 1 million of the 2.75 million who have sought the pills since 2000 obtaining them at the clinic.
Abortion is legal in the U.S. but many states still impose their own regulations on the procedure. States that have the fewest additional rules in place have even more women taking pills to end their pregnancy, with 55 percent of abortions in Michigan and 64 percent in Iowa the result of medicine rather than surgery. Abortion of either kind can cost between $300 and $1,000.
Abortion in the U.S. is on an overall decline, attributed to the increase in availability of birth control.