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Glossary of Abortifacients (July 1998)

Through a survey of available information on the various abortifacients and chemical compounds that cause abortions, Concerned Women for America discovered no organization provided a single document listing and describing all abortifacients. Hence, CWA has compiled a glossary that includes the known abortifacients, along with their descriptions, side effects and risk factors, for the benefit of the reader. (1)

Intra-uterine Device (IUD)

The IUD is a small, plastic, T-shaped device, containing either copper or progesterone, with a protruding thin plastic thread. It is inserted into the uterus and is intended to cause early abortions. How it works: The IUD works by preventing implantation of the living human embryo in the lining of the uterus by inflaming the walls of the uterus, thus aborting an [unborn child] at one week of life. (2) Side effects and risk factors: Cramping and spotting during first few weeks after insertion; heavier menstrual flow with the copper IUD; lighter menstrual flow with the progesterone IUD; backaches; pain during ovulation; pelvic infection which can lead to sterility; painful embedding of IUD in uterus; perforation of uterine wall, cervix, or urinary bladder; heart injury; copper toxicity (Wilson's disease), or poisoning of the organs; anemia; continued pregnancy, which may lead to premature birth, miscarriage, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy (3) (where the human embryo implants in the fallopian tubes and may be fatal), or septic abortion (4) (death of [unborn child] caused by infection that can result in high fever, and other complications); no protection against STDs or AIDS.


Norplant® consists of a group of six tiny plastic rods each 1.4 inches long, filled with 36 mg of levonorgestrel (6) (a progesterone-type drug). These are implanted in the woman's arm in the shape of a fan and last approximately five years. How it works: There are three functions of Norplant.a First, it suppresses ovulation in at least half of women's menstrual cycles. But ovulation still occurs in up to 41 percent of women. (8) Second, it thickens the cervical mucus, preventing sperm from reaching any eggs that are produced. Third, if the first two actions fail, Norplanta prohibits the development of the endometrium, or lining of the uterus. According to the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Law & Policy, in this third action, Norplanta creates a hostile environment for the [unborn child]; hence, it is aborted. (9) To put it briefly, in the first years, suppression of ovulation is the major effect. In the third to fifth years, abortion is the major effect. Side effects and risk factors: Discomfort at implantation site; difficulty in removal; irregular menstrual bleeding, including increased bleeding; changes in blood pressure; risk of heart attack; blood clotting; ovarian cysts; headaches; increased body weight; mood swings, loss of libido, and depression; blindness; (10) enlarged ovaries and/or fallopian tubes; nervousness; nausea; acne; dizziness; dermatitis; breast tenderness; excessive hair growth; and inflammation of the cervix; (11) chest pains; uterine cramping, and excessive PMS symptoms; (12) no protection against STDs or AIDS.


Implanon™ is an abortifacient similar to Norplant,a but consisting of only one rod. It is being tested by Organon of New Jersey. A subdermal implant, it is a 2 mm x 4 cm rod containing etonogestrel and is encased in a type of plastic. (13) How it works: Implanona is comparable to Norplanta in its action. It is effective for at least three years. Side effects and risk factors: "Potentially, localization of the single rod system [for the purpose of removal] may prove difficult because of its small size, migration from the site of initial insertion, development of dense fibrous sheaths, deep subdermal implantation, large amounts of subcutaneous fat, or clinician inexperience in insertion." (14) Because it is in the testing process, nothing is known about Implanon'sa side effects and risk factors, as well as its long-term effects.

Depo-Provera® (depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, or DMPA)

Depo-Proveraa® is a long-acting progestin (manufactured hormone), (15) administered by an injection of 150 mg of medroxyprogesterone acetate into a muscle every three months. How it works: Similar to Norplant,a Depo-Proveraa works in three ways. First, it prevents ovulation. Second, it can cause the mucus in the cervix to change, keeping sperm from entering the cervix. Third, it can irritate the lining of the uterus so that the human embryo, or [unborn child], cannot attach and, thus, is aborted. Side effects and risk factors: Excessive bleeding; temporary or permanent sterility; potential damage to future children; increased risk of cervical cancer; risk of breast cancer; headaches; abdominal discomfort; anxiety; nervousness; adrenal gland suppression (slows the production of some of the body's natural hormones); weight gain; hair loss; decreased libido; mood swings; dizziness; fatigue; allergic reactions causing rash or itching; severe mental depression; (16) ectopic pregnancy; (17) increased bone mineral loss in the first years of use, which could cause bone fractures; increased risk of blood clots or stroke; leg cramps; vaginal discharge or irritation; breast swelling and tenderness; bloating; swelling of hands or feet; backache; insomnia; acne; hot flashes; (18) no protection against STDs and AIDS.

Anti-fertility Vaccines

These vaccines make women immune to their own babies in the womb. How they work: Two types are being tested by the World Health Organization (WHO). The anti-hCG vaccine works against the natural effects of a hormone called human chorionic gonadtropin, or hCG, which is produced by the [unborn child]. The vaccine causes the mother's immune system to treat the [unborn child] as foreign and aborts it. The second type of vaccine is called Trophoblastic Antigen (TBA), and it causes the mother's body to recognize the [unborn child's] protective outer layer as foreign. Her immune system destroys the outer layer, thus aborting the [unborn child.] Side effects and risk factors: Because these vaccines are still in the testing stages, not enough is known about the risks. In preliminary research, potential harm to a woman's immune system has been observed, with a potential lasting effect that could make a woman's immune system ineffective. (19)

Methotrexate and Misoprostol (Cytotec®)

Methotrexate has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of cancer. Misoprostol (Cytotec®) has been approved by the FDA to prevent stomach ulcers and is also used unofficially as a follow-up drug after RU-486 or Methotrexate to complete the abortion. The FDA has not officially approved Cytotec® as a follow-up drug to RU-486 or Methotrexate. How it works: At the doctor's office, an intramuscular injection of methotrexate, or MTX, is administered. Also used in the treatment of cancer, MTX can destroy the trophoblast, or protective outer layer of the [unborn child.] A second chemical, Cytotec®, in the form of a suppository, is inserted into the woman's vagina four to seven days later to induce contractions to push the dead [child] out of her uterus. After being given the dosage of Cytoteca, the woman may expel the dead [child] within hours. However, a second dose may be required, and it may take days or weeks for the abortion to be complete. The woman may bleed for weeks, even requiring a dilatation and curettage (D&C), (20) or a blood transfusion. The dead [child] may be expelled anywhere outside the doctor's office. (21) If during the follow-up exam at the doctor's office the abortion is found not to be complete, surgical abortion is utilized. Side effects and risk factors: From Cytotec®-- kidney problems; infertility (sterility); cramping and bleeding. From MTX injection -- potentially poisonous to woman's body; liver damage; kidney destruction; heart muscle damage; pulmonary failure; gastrointestinal problems; stroke; convulsions; (22) nausea; diarrhea; bone marrow depression; severe anemia; methotrexate-induced lung disease; possible death.23

RU-486 (mifepristone) and Cytotec® (misoprostol)

RU-486 is a man-made steroid in the form of a pill that acts against the natural process of a pregnancy. The FDA approved it for general use on September 28, 2000. How it works: An RU-486 abortion takes place in four visits to the doctor. During the first visit, the woman undergoes a pregnancy test, blood test, pelvic exam and often an ultrasound exam.RU-486 is only effective during the first forty-nine days after conception. At the second visit, the woman takes three RU-486 pills. This anti-progesterone prevents the endometrium (lining of the uterus) from providing progesterone to the [unborn child], which is necessary for its nourishment. Thus, the [unborn child] starves to death. At the third visit, the woman receives Cytotec®, which induces cramping in order to expel the dead [child] from her body. The fourth visit occurs about a week later to ensure the abortion is complete and to monitor the woman's bleeding. If the abortion is not successful (5-10 percent of all cases), (24) the woman undergoes a surgical abortion. Side effects and risk factors: Nausea; abdominal pain; vomiting; heavy and extended bleeding; heart attack; hemorrhage; impaired future fertility; harmful to any future children; significant blood loss; possible death (one woman in France has died from RU-486.) (25) Long-term effects to a woman's fertility and immune system are not known.

The Pill

There are two basic types of birth control pills. One is a combination of estrogen and progestin.26 The other is progestin only (the "mini-pill"). How it works: The pill involves three actions. The first action is to prevent ovulation, or the release of an egg. However, ovulation is not always suppressed. (27) Breakthrough ovulation occurs even in women who never miss a pill, (28) and estimations of breakthrough ovulation range from 2-10 percent to 20 percent. (29) The second action performed by the progestin is to thicken the cervical mucus in order to restrict sperm from entering the fallopian tubes. If the first two actions fail, the progestin irritates the lining of the uterus, thus preventing implantation [of the human embryo]. (30) The third action is a chemical abortion. The mini-pill is a progestin-only pill that allows ovulation to take place 40 to 60 percent of the time. (31) The "morning-after pill" is actually an increased dose of the pill (estrogen and progestin) to be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. This will end any possible pregnancy (implantation by the human embryo) by irritating the lining of the uterus and preventing implantation at one week of life. Side effects and risk factors: Weakened immune system which may lead to bacterial infections and greater susceptibility to AIDS; pelvic inflammatory disease, which may lead to sterility and death; infertility; cervical cancer; ectopic pregnancy; shrinking of the womb; mood swings and depression; breast cancer; blood clots; birth defects in children conceived while a woman is on the pill; tender breasts; stroke; weight gain. (32) Nausea and vomiting are additional risks to using the morning-after pill. No protection from STDs and AIDS is provided by the pill. (33)

End Notes

  1. Editor's Note: Based on the fact that human life begins at conception -- when the egg is fertilized by the sperm, CWA recognizes the term "human embryo" to be the same as "unborn child."
  2. "The Intrauterine Device," ACOG Patient Education (Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1995).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. William Booth, "Updating a Revolution," The Washington Post, 7 January 1991, A3.
  6. Levonorgestrel, a manmade hormone, has been used in birth control pills for many years.
  7. John Wilks, A Consumer's Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs (Stafford, VA: American Life League, October 1997), 105.
  8. Ibid., 106.
  9. "Norplanta: The New Danger in Birth Control," (Washington, D.C.: Concerned Women for America, 1997).
  10. Judie Brown, "Norplanta" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997).
  11. "Norplant®: the New Danger In Birth Control".
  12. Darney, et al., "Acceptance and Perceptions of Norplanta Among Users in San Francisco, USA," Studies in Family Planning, Vol. 21, #3, 5-6/90, 152-160, quoted in Judie Brown and Kristine Severyn, "What is Norplanta?" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997), 2.
  13. Ethylene Vinylacetate Copolymer (EVA).
  14. Athena Lantz, et al., "Ultrasound Characteristics of Subdermally Implanted Implanona Contraceptive Rods," Contraception, Vol. 56, 1997, 301-304.
  15. Judie Brown, "What is Depo-Provera?" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1996), 1.
  16. Judie Brown, "Depo-Provera" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997).
  17. Brown, "What is Depo-Provera?"
  18. Patient labeling insert for Depo-Provera Contraceptive Injection, revised March 1993, (Kalamazoo, MI: Upjohn Company, 1993).
  19. Judie Brown, "Anti-Fertility Vaccines" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997).
  20. A surgical D&C will remove the uterine lining and stop the bleeding.
  21. "Abortion Techniques: Methotrexate" (Washington, D.C.: National Right to Life, 1997), 12.
  22. Wilks, 177.
  23. "Abortion Techniques: Methotrexate," 12.
  24. "Abortion Techniques: RU 486" (Washington, D.C.: National Right to Life, 1997), 10.
  25. Wilks, 163.
  26. The progestins and estrogen in the pill are artificial hormones that cause the female body to believe it is pregnant each month, suppressing the body's production of normal progesterone and estrogen.
  27. R. Rahwan, Contraceptives, Interceptives and Abortifacients, (Columbus: Division of Pharmacology, College of Pharmacy, Ohio State University, 1995), 8.
  28. Randy Alcorn, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, (Gresham, OR: Eternal Perspective Ministries, rev. March 1998), 17. Ibid, 46. Obtained from a package insert of Jenesta-28 Tablets, a type of birth control pill. David Sterns, M.D., Gina Sterns, R.N., B.S.N., and Pamela Yaksich, B.S., "How the IUD and 'The Pill' Work: Gambling With Life" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1990). Judie Brown, "The Pill" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997). Judie Brown, "Emergency Contraception: The Morning-after Pill" (Stafford, VA: American Life League, 1997).

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