Safe abortion care is health care

What you need to know about abortion

Illustration of a woman in yellow T shirt thinking with question marks around her for International Safe Abortion Day

© howtouseabortionpill.org

Last updated on October 10, 2023

Worldwide, more than half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Women, girls, and anyone who can become pregnant need access to safe abortion care.

Those who cannot access safe care due to legal restrictions, cost, stigma, or a lack of accurate information will often resort to unsafe methods to end an unwanted pregnancy. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality around the world, causing at least 22,800 maternal deaths per year. Millions of people who survive unsafe abortions will suffer from severe complications.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is committed to providing safe abortion care to reduce avoidable suffering and deaths. In an effort to make accurate information about safe abortion care more accessible and judgment-free and to counter harmful misinformation, MSF has partnered with Women First Digital (WFD) and its website HowToUseAbortionPill.org (HowToUse) to produce a new series of simple, animated videos in 2023. MSF and WFD co-produced a previous public-facing series of short animated videos—How to ensure a safe abortion with pills—in 2021.

These new videos address frequently asked questions about safe abortion care and are aimed at anyone who wants to understand what a safe abortion with pills entails, what the experience of a safe abortion is like, and how to talk about it in an open, supportive way.

DisclaimerEveryone is different, and if you have specific questions related to your health you should see a qualified healthcare provider. This video is intended solely for education and is not intended as a substitute for qualified medical services and advice. While we strive to provide reasonably accurate information based on available research, you should not rely solely on these materials, and they are provided “as is” and without any warranty, express or implied. Never disregard qualified medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read or seen on the internet, generally. 

How to talk about abortion

Abortion is common.

People have abortions everywhere, every day.

Worldwide, more than half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion.

It’s essential health care for millions of women, girls, and anyone who can become pregnant.

So why don’t we talk about it more?

Abortion is still surrounded by misinformation, myths, and stigma.

This can lead to an environment of secrecy, where people don’t talk about abortion because they fear judgment and rejection.

It can even push people to have unsafe abortions—a leading cause of maternal deaths.

That’s why it’s important for us to talk about abortion.

Here's how.

First, start with compassion and understanding of other people’s experiences.

Don’t be judgmental.

Believing that everyone has the right to make decisions about their own bodies means no one should have to justify their decision to seek an abortion.

If you are speaking with someone who is against abortion, don’t start a debate.

Try to ask open-ended questions about people’s attitudes and experiences with abortion.

For example: “If someone you love had an abortion, how would you want that experience to be for them?”

Transformation happens slowly, and usually not by losing an argument.

Sometimes, hearing a story or being asked a thoughtful question can be enough. Second, choose your words carefully.

Anti-abortion groups use language that is intentionally negative and shaming. Avoid stigmatizing language.

You can say “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life”, “fetus” or “embryo” instead of “unborn child.”

Focus your message on the pregnant person, their health, safety, and rights. Be inclusive in your language - people of all ages and religions, from every walk of life, choose to have abortions.

Couples often make the choice together, and men can play an active supporting role. Third, use reliable sources and references.

There is a lot of misinformation out there. This can harm and confuse abortion seekers.

Try to counter this with accurate information from trusted sources, like doctorswithoutborders.org and HowToUseAbortionPill.org.

Be a resource for those in need. Safe abortion care is health care.

So, let's break the silence!

What does it feel like to have an abortion with pills?

Everyone’s abortion feels different.

But here are some things to expect when considering an abortion with pills to end an early pregnancy.

There are two medications often used together for a safe abortion—mifepristone and misoprostol.

There’s decades of research and experience showing how safe and effective these pills are.

It’s also possible to have a safe abortion with misoprostol alone.

If you are taking mifepristone, you might not feel much at first. Most people start to experience cramps and bleeding after taking the misoprostol pills.

Some have light cramping, while for others it’s very intense. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

Cramping is a common sign that your uterus is contracting, and the medication is working.

You can start taking ibuprofen before the cramps begin, even before you take the misoprostol.

A heating pad or hot water bottle can also help relieve cramps.

The heaviest bleeding will likely start four to six hours after taking the first round of misoprostol, and you might pass some large clots.

Bleeding usually slows down within 24 hours, but it’s normal to have continued light bleeding for a few weeks.

You might have nausea, diarrhea, fever, or headaches—these can be temporary side effects of the medication.

Afterwards, you should start feeling better and better each day.

If you start to feel sicker, then you should seek medical attention.

For more information on abortion with pills, talk to a health provider or go to HowToUseAbortionPill.org.

What do I need to have a safe abortion with pills?

Having an abortion with pills is a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy.

It’s important to have: 

Accurate information, quality medications, and good preparation.

First, accurate information.

An abortion with pills is common, safe, and effective.

Depending on where you live, healthcare workers may be able to help you with abortion information and resources.

Depending on where you live, healthcare workers may be able to help you with abortion information and resources.

Our video series also provides accurate information about safe abortion with pills up to 13 weeks.

And the website HowToUseAbortionPill.org addresses many of the questions you might have.  

Second, quality medications. There are two medications that, taken together, are scientifically proven to be a safe and effective way to have an abortion:

These pills are called mifepristone and misoprostol, both of which can be found under a variety of brand names.

It’s also possible to have a safe abortion with misoprostol alone. When women and pregnant people can’t get access to safe abortion care, they may try to induce an abortion through unsafe methods.

This can be extremely dangerous. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide.

For most people, an abortion with the correct, quality medications is safe. It’s important to know you are getting these pills from a reliable source. Going to your health provider to get pills is a great option.

There are also trusted groups that provide information online in different languages, like safe2choose.org and womenonweb.org

Third, good preparation. If you are going to have an abortion with pills, be prepared.

Find a place where you can have some privacy and access to a toilet.

Cramping and bleeding are normal parts of the process and can last for hours.

You’ll want to have ibuprofen and a heating pad or hot water bottle to ease the pain.

Sanitary pads are helpful for the bleeding.  

During the abortion process, most people can eat and drink as they normally would. Be aware that you might experience nausea, a fever, or some diarrhea.

This is also normal.

After using the abortion pills, you should feel better and better each day. If you start to feel sicker, then you should seek medical attention.

Have a plan for who to call or what to do, just in case.

Severe complications are extremely rare.

An abortion with pills is so safe that most people successfully manage the process at home without any problems.

Does having an abortion affect your mental health?

You may have heard that having an abortion negatively impacts mental health and can lead to issues like depression. 

This is not true.

In fact, a landmark study published in 2020 found that the emotion most commonly reported after a safe abortion is relief.

However, research has shown that a person's mental health can be significantly impacted if they are denied an abortion.

Around 95% of women who were denied an abortion reported increased feelings of anxiety, lower self-esteem, and lower life satisfaction in the days after being denied an abortion.

Scientific evidence clearly shows that safe abortion does not cause more mental health issues than being denied a safe abortion. 

Of course, everyone comes to an abortion with different life experiences. 

A good indicator of a person's mental health after a desired abortion is their mental health before. 

What can negatively impact the mental health of someone who has had an abortion is encountering stigma and judgment. 

It’s important to have accurate information when we talk about abortion.

Go to HowToUseAbortionPill.org to read more.