To terminate a pregnancy, two types of abortion are available to women:
- medical abortion (also called medication abortion or non-surgical abortion)
- surgical abortion
The risk of complications from abortion is very small. A fraction of a percent of abortion patients have complications that require hospitalization - less than 0.3%
Medical AbortionAs the name suggests, medical abortions do not involve surgery or other invasive methods but rely on medications to end pregnancy.
A medical abortion involves taking the drug mifepristone; often called 'the abortion pill,' its generic name is RU-486 and its brand name is Mifeprex. Mifepristone is not available over the counter and must be provided by a health care professional. A woman seeking a medical abortion can obtain one through a doctor's office or clinic and should expect two or more visits to complete the process, as another drug, misoprostol, must be taken to terminate the pregnancy.
Mifepristone is prescribed in the first trimester and is FDA-approved for use up to 49 days (7 weeks) after a woman's last period. Although considered off label (not FDA-approved), some providers may opt to use it up to 63 days (9 weeks) after the first day of a woman's last period, although its effectiveness is diminished after 7 weeks.
In 2005, medical abortions made up 13% of all abortions and 22% of abortions that took place within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy.
Surgical AbortionAll surgical abortions are medical procedures that must be done in a health care provider's office or clinic. There are several different surgical abortion options. How far along a woman is in her pregnancy often determines what method will be used.
Aspiration is an abortion procedure that can be performed on a woman up to 16 weeks after her last period. Aspiration, also known as vacuum aspiration, suction aspiration or D&A (dilation and aspiration), involves the insertion of a tube through the dilated cervix into the uterus. Gentle suction removes fetal tissue and empties the uterus.
In some circumstances, a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette is used to scrape the uterine lining to remove any remaining tissue. This procedure is called a D&C (dilation and curettage.)
Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is typically performed during the second trimester (between the 13th and 24th week of pregnancy.) Similar to a D&C, a D&E involves other instruments (such as forceps) along with suction to empty the uterus. In later second-trimester abortions, a shot administered through the abdomen may be necessary to ensure fetal demise before the D&E begins.
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