The recent fall of Roe v. Wade has given new life to the abortion debate in the US, but even before Roe was overturned, conditions were difficult for people seeking abortions in much of the country. Texas and Oklahoma passed near-total abortion bans over the last year, and even in states where abortion is still legal, safe access to reproductive health care can be hard to come by.
Abortion pills, therefore, have played an important role in safeguarding reproductive rights, especially for people in areas with little access to in-person care. Yet the procedure for medication abortion—which involves taking one pill called mifepristone, which stops the pregnancy from progressing, followed by another pill called misoprostol (up to 48 hours after taking the first pill) that empties the uterus—is often misunderstood, and it can be a challenge to find reliable information about what the process actually looks and feels like.
Vogue recently spoke to five people who had medication abortions—while making sure to protect their anonymity, given the potential criminalization of people seeking abortions in the US—about why they opted for abortion pills versus an abortion procedure (often called a “surgical” abortion), what their experiences were like, and what they wish they’d known beforehand. Read their stories below.
Mia, 34, any pronouns
“I found out I was accidentally pregnant (for the first time) right after Thanksgiving 2020, when everyone was predicting a massive surge in COVID cases following all the travel that was happening and vaccines were still months away. The idea of spending many hours inside a medical facility during a second surge was deeply unappealing, so I chose the abortion option that would allow me to do the bulk of the procedure at home.
Despite the temporary laws that made it easier for clinics to prescribe medication abortions, it was weirdly hard to find a place that would give me the pills without too much fuss. Planned Parenthood, in my experience, wanted you to come in, get an ultrasound, wait for a few hours, take the first pill, then go home to take the second pill. After a ton of research and several telehealth consultations, I surprised myself by going with a medication-by-mail service that had spun up under the auspices of a research study. It felt like an oddly illicit and old-school option to resort to, considering I was a well-insured, internet-savvy person living in New York City—but it was the only way to truly minimize the time spent inside a medical facility. I received my pills without incident, did a telehealth consultation to go over the details, and that was it.
I took my second pill early one Saturday morning, six weeks into my pregnancy. My partner was still asleep, but I figured they would be awake by the time it kicked in. I was amply prepared for the bleeding, but not for the pain—I eventually woke them up to help me set up a heating pad and procure enough edibles to tranquilize a bear. Both of those helped a lot, but I still spent a few hours in enough pain to be incoherent. When the worst of it passed, my partner handed me a banana because I hadn’t eaten anything all day after hours of cramps. I remember it as one of the most delicious things I’d ever eaten.