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A medication abortion involves taking two types of pills. One of them, mifepristone, has been the subject of all kinds of restrictive regulations over the years—until this year, you couldn’t even get your prescription filled at a regular pharmacy. And now, as our friends at Jezebel report, an anti-abortion judge is considering whether to revoke its FDA approval. You might want to order some pills now, they suggest.
First off: Yes, it is absolutely ridiculous that a single asshole judge could potentially un-approve a medication that has been used safely in this country for 23 years. In a sane world, this would not happen. But a ruling could come as soon as Feb. 10, so maybe you want to be prepared.
Medication abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol is approved in the U.S. up to 10 weeks’ gestation. (The World Health Organization recommends it up to 12 weeks.) After that, your options are typically limited to in-clinic procedures like vacuum aspiration.
When you take the pills for an abortion, mifepristone—the unnecessarily controversial one—blocks progesterone and stops the embryo from developing. The other drug, misoprostol, causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus. (Misoprostol is also used to help complete a natural miscarriage and also has other uses, like preventing NSAID-induced stomach ulcers.)
As Jezebel points out, Aid Access and Choix will mail abortion pills to you even if you are not currently pregnant: It’s called “advance provision” and the idea is that you will have the medications on hand in case you ever need them.
How long does mifepristone last?
Medications come with expiration dates on their packaging, and like the “best by” dates on food, these are meant to indicate that the drug will still contain the right ingredients in the right amounts for at least that long. So your first step is to check the expiration date on the package of medication you receive. If that date has not yet arrived, and you have stored the medication at room temperature in its sealed package, you should be good.
But the medication may last longer. Clinician and public health researcher Daniel Grossman has pointed out that mifepristone is generally recognized to last “about five years,” while its partner misoprostol typically has a two-year expiration date. Misoprostol is not in danger of being banned or un-approved, so we’ll focus on mifepristone here.
Tests have actually come up with a variety of estimates of the shelf life of mifepristone, ranging from two to five years. If the medication is stored outside of its sealed blister package, it likely degrades a lot more quickly.
If your box of mifepristone has passed its expiration date, the main risk is that you don’t know for sure if it’s going to be potent enough to trigger your body to end the pregnancy. If your medication is expired and you’re in a position to consult with a medical professional about it, it may be worth asking whether they think it’s appropriate to go ahead with taking the pills.