Medication abortions, also referred to as abortion pills, will be harder for Oklahomans to access now that the state has criminalized performing abortions.
The fall of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that enshrined the right to abortion, has also set into motion trigger bans in states across the country. That means Oklahomans seeking an abortion — either through pills or a clinic procedure — may have to travel farther to receive them in states where it is legal.
Some may also seek out legally murky methods of obtaining abortion pills and manage their abortions at home.
“I think definitely the people who could afford to travel and have the means and the privilege to travel will travel,” said Dr. Selina Sandoval, a California OB-GYN. “Some patients are going to travel, but we also know that we’re going to see a rise in self-managed abortion,” which is when someone has an abortion outside of the medical setting, without talking to a clinician.
What are abortion pills? How do they work?
For the most common medication abortion regimen, the abortion is done by taking a series of pills. The regimen can be taken if a person is less than 10 weeks pregnant.
The first pill is called mifepristone, which stops the pregnancy from growing and signals to the body to prepare for a miscarriage, Sandoval said.
The second set of pills are misoprostol. Typically, four tablets are placed between the cheek and the gums and left to dissolve for a half hour, Sandoval said. Misoprostol causes the cervix to open and the uterus to contract, so the uterus can expel the pregnancy, she said.
Is medication abortion safe?
“It’s incredibly, incredibly safe,” Sandoval said.
The rate of serious complications, like unsafe bleeding, is about 1% or less, she said.
What’s the difference between medication abortion and an abortion procedure in a clinic?
Medication abortion is a series of pills taken over a few days to end a pregnancy. A procedural abortion in a clinic takes a few minutes, Sandoval said.
The recovery times are similar, she said, but medication abortion may require a follow-up appointment about a week after, while procedural abortions generally don’t require follow-up.
Some patients choose medication abortion because it can be done at home, with support people around, Sandoval said.
“Some things I hear from my patients about medication abortion is that some people say it feels more natural, or it’s something that they can do at home [and] it feels more private,” she said.
Are abortion pills the same as Plan B?
No. Medication abortion is not the same as emergency contraception, also called Plan B or the “morning after” pill, which can be taken within a few days of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
There are a few types of emergency contraception pills, but none are abortifacients. The pills cannot terminate a pregnancy; they work by delaying ovulation, thereby preventing fertilization, or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting.
One type of emergency contraception contains levonorgestrel, and it's sold under the brand names Plan B One-Step, Take Action and others. There are also generic options that may be less expensive.
Plan B is available to purchase without a prescription and can be found in most retail pharmacies, some grocery stores and online. There aren't age restrictions on who can buy Plan B.
Another type of emergency contraception pills, which contains ulipristal acetate and is sold under the brand name Ella, does require a prescription. Plan B is less effective in people who weigh over 165 pounds; Ella is shown to be effective in people who weigh up to 195 pounds.
Emergency contraception, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other contraceptives (like implants, condoms and birth control pills) are all still legal under Oklahoma’s abortion ban.
While access to contraceptives is not at risk now, it could be in the future, Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Emily Wales said recently.
"Today, you can still come and get contraception care at our clinics or in other clinics around this four-state region," she said, referring to Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. "But we have to be thoughtful that these are not off the table for the future, and we have to fight back to protect our rights."
Do Oklahoma laws ban abortion pills?
Yes, Oklahoma’s abortion laws outlaw all types of abortion, including medication abortion.
While the law doesn’t apply to the person having an abortion, it could mean prison time and fines for anyone who performs an abortion on someone else.
What abortion resources are out there?
ineedana.com can direct people to the nearest clinic locations in states where abortions are legal.
The Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline is staffed by physicians who can answer questions about abortions, including self-managed ones and miscarriages: https://www.mahotline.org
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: What are abortion pills, and are they legal in Oklahoma?