Abortion-Inducing “Period Pills” Come to the U.S.

By | February 10, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 10 (C-Fam) Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal right to abortion, activists have been looking for ways to ensure abortion remains available, even if illegal in some states.  One strategy—“missed period pills”—is unfamiliar to many in the U.S. but is widely used in Bangladesh as the result of a legal loophole.

“Menstrual regulation,” as it is known in Bangladesh, employs the same procedures as a surgical or chemical first-trimester abortion.  While abortion is legally restricted, “menstrual regulation” has been part of Bangladesh’s family planning program since 1979, and was later expanded to include the use of pills.  The stated intention is to restore a woman’s menstrual cycle, ensuring that she is not pregnant.  If she was pregnant, the child is aborted, but it is not legally considered an abortion as no pregnancy test was done first.

In the U.S., there are already efforts by the government to ensure that abortion pills can be obtained in local pharmacies, and overseas groups advertise illegal abortion pills to U.S. women by mail.  In many ways, those selling “period pills” are no different, as the drugs are the same, and the legal peculiarities of Bangladesh and other countries that allow “menstrual regulation,” like Cuba, do not apply in the U.S.

However, proponents of so-called “period pills” are trying to appeal to an audience that is uncomfortable with abortion for moral reasons.  A website promoting the pills quotes women’s reasons to prefer this method to a standard abortion following a pregnancy test. “It would be easier on my emotional well-being to not know I was actually pregnant,” one woman said.  Another said, “I wouldn’t feel I am a bad person.”

In an interview on U.S. public radio, promoters of “period pills” waved away modern medical knowledge about fertilization and pregnancy and talked about ancient concepts like quickening, the point at which a pregnant woman can first feel the unborn child move.  “A lot of people that I talked with talked about how pregnancy isn’t just a bodily reality, it’s a state of mind,” said Abby Wendle, who produces a podcast for National Public Radio.  “It’s a desire to have a baby and be a parent.”

While a missed period does not always mean a pregnancy, “period pills” are marketed for one purpose: the intentional destruction of an unborn life, if one is present.  The website promoting the pills warns that if they fail to work and the pregnancy continues, “there may be a risk to the developing embryo.”  They warn that women should only use them if they “would have an abortion if the period pills did not work.”  While the website claims that “serious side effects are rare” for women using the pills, they are not nonexistent, and the expected results include cramping and bleeding.

From a legal perspective, using pills to induce a period in the absence of a confirmed pregnancy test may not meet some definitions of abortion, although pro-life lawmakers will need to take these issues into account when writing legislation to protect unborn life.  For people on both sides of the abortion issue in the U.S., “period pills” represent a relatively new area within the larger debate, and an important example of how practices developed internationally are increasingly relevant in the U.S. since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.