Abortion pill most common way to end pregnancy, CDC says

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Boxes of the drug Mifepristone, used to induce a medical abortion, are readied for patients at a Planned Parenthood health center in Birmingham, Alabama, March 14, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

The abortion pill is the most common method of ending a pregnancy in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC found in a report published Wednesday that about 51% of abortions in 2020 were performed with the pill at or before the ninth week of pregnancy. From 2019 to 2020, pill abortions increased 22%, according to the report.

The pill, mifepristone, has become a flashpoint in the fight over reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down federal abortion rights in June. Twelve states have banned abortion since then, but it is difficult to ban the pill because it has become easier to obtain.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration suspended a requirement that women obtain mifepristone in person, allowing them to receive the pill by mail and at retail pharmacies. The Medicines Agency announced in December 2021 that it would make this change permanent.

Anti-abortion groups last week asked a federal court in Texas to overturn the FDA’s more than two-decade-old approval of mifepristone. The groups’ attorneys are from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization involved in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and eight other senators asked the FDA in a letter last week to expand access to mifepristone by approving its use for abortion treatment. This would improve women’s access to the pill in states that restrict access, the senators wrote.

The FDA has approved mifepristone in combination with tablet misoprostol as a method of terminating pregnancies before the 10th week. Mifepristone prevents the pregnancy from continuing and misoprostol causes contractions that empty the uterus. The method is 96% to 98% effective in terminating early pregnancies.

The abortion pill has become an increasingly common way to end a pregnancy in the United States. Abortions with the pill increased 154% from 2011 to 2020, according to CDC data.

More than 620,000 abortions were performed in the United States in 2020, a 15% decrease since 2011. Nearly all abortions, 93%, are performed at or before the 13th week of pregnancy, and 80% are performed at or before the ninth week, according to CDC data.

Surgical abortions are the second most common method of terminating a pregnancy. About 40% of all abortions were performed with surgical procedures at or before the 13th week of pregnancy, according to the CDC.

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