Abortion

Overview

What is an abortion?

Abortion is the early ending of a pregnancy. Surgery or medicine can be used to end the pregnancy. But sometimes a pregnancy ends on its own. This is called a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion.

How will you know what decision is right for you?

For some, the choice to have an abortion is clear. For others, it's more complicated. You may need some time to think about your choices.

Counseling may help you to decide what is best for you. If you're comfortable, you can start by talking with your doctor. Family planning clinics also offer counseling to help you decide what is best for you. You may also want to talk with someone close to you who understands how pregnancy and raising a child would affect your life.

Carefully think through your choices, which are to:

  • Have a baby, and support and raise your child to adulthood.
  • Have a baby, and place the baby for adoption.
  • Have an abortion.

When can an abortion be done?

When an abortion can be done depends on how many weeks pregnant you are. The earlier you are in your pregnancy, the more options you are likely to have. Also, the risk of problems will be lower.

If you think you might be pregnant, see a doctor as soon as you can. If you are pregnant, this is an important time to learn as much as you can about your options.

You may have a choice between a medical abortion (which means taking medicine to end the pregnancy) and a surgical abortion, such as vacuum aspiration or dilation and evacuation (D&E).

After 11 weeks, surgical abortion is usually the only option. The risks from having an abortion in the second trimester are higher than in the first trimester. Abortions are rarely done after 24 weeks of pregnancy (during the late second trimester and entire third trimester).

Abortion may or may not be legal where you live. No matter where you live, if you need an abortion, you can reach out to Planned Parenthood. They can tell you where you can get an abortion and how to access that care. There may be funds available if you need to travel.

How safe is an abortion?

Abortions done by doctors are very safe. The safest timing for an abortion is usually during the first trimester. This is when a low-risk medicine or vacuum aspiration procedure can be used.

Will you be able to have children in the future?

Having an abortion usually won't keep you from getting pregnant later.

It will probably take you a day to a few weeks to heal and feel better after an abortion. Ask your doctor when it's okay to have sexual intercourse.

Keep in mind that you can get pregnant in the weeks right after an abortion. If you don't want to get pregnant, talk with your doctor about birth control options.

Choices: Medical or Surgical Abortion

A pregnancy can be ended (abortion) with medicines or surgery.

Your abortion options are affected by your past health and how many weeks pregnant you are. There are fewer abortion options during the second trimester.

Abortion may or may not be legal where you live. No matter where you live, if you need an abortion, you can reach out to Planned Parenthood. They can tell you where you can get an abortion and how to access that care. There may be funds available if you need to travel.

Medical abortion

Medicines can be used to cause (induce) abortion. This often involves taking more than one medicine. The type of medicine may depend on how many weeks of pregnancy have passed. Some are used up to about 11 weeks of pregnancy. These may include:

  • Mifepristone. This medicine is also known as Mifeprex or RU-486. It blocks the effects of the hormone progesterone. This stops the placenta's growth and softens the cervix.
  • Misoprostol. This hormone softens and opens (dilates) the cervix and triggers uterine cramping to clear the uterus of all tissue.

Medicines can also be used to end a second-trimester pregnancy. This is called an induction abortion. The medicines start contractions, which expel the fetus from the uterus.

Surgical abortion

Different procedures are used to remove the contents of the uterus. Which one is used depends on how many weeks of pregnancy have passed.

Surgical methods used in the first trimester (5 to 12 weeks) include manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) and machine vacuum aspiration. These use suction through a small tube to empty the uterus of all tissue.

Surgical methods used in the second trimester include dilation and evacuation (D&E). This is most often done when an abortion occurs in the second 12 weeks of pregnancy. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration and sometimes the use of surgical tools (such as forceps) to clear the uterus of fetal and placental tissue.

A D&E is most commonly used during the second trimester. That's because it has a lower complication risk than induction abortion.

Learn more

When to Call a Doctor

Your health professional will give you information about what to expect after an abortion. Normal symptoms that most often occur include:

  • Irregular bleeding or spotting for as long as the first few weeks.
  • Cramping for the first 2 weeks. Cramping (like menstrual cramps) may last for as long as 6 weeks.

Follow your doctor's instructions on what to do at home.

Call your doctor now if you have any of these symptoms after an abortion:

  • Severe bleeding. Both medical and surgical abortions usually cause bleeding that is different from a normal menstrual period. Severe bleeding can mean:
    • Passing clots that are bigger than a golf ball, lasting 2 or more hours.
    • Soaking more than 2 large pads in an hour, for 2 hours in a row.
    • Bleeding heavily for 12 hours in a row.
  • Signs of infection in your whole body, such as headache, muscle aches, dizziness, or a general feeling of illness. Severe infection is possible without fever.
  • Severe pain in the belly that isn't relieved by pain medicine, rest, or heat
  • Hot flushes or a fever that lasts longer than 4 hours
  • Vomiting lasting more than 4 to 6 hours
  • Sudden belly swelling or rapid heart rate
  • Vaginal discharge that has increased in amount or smells bad
  • Pain, swelling, or redness in the genital area

Call your doctor for an appointment if you have had any of these symptoms after a recent abortion:

  • Bleeding (not spotting) for longer than 2 weeks
  • New, unexplained symptoms that may be caused by medicines used in your treatment
  • No menstrual period within 6 weeks after the procedure
  • Signs of depression. Hormonal changes after a pregnancy can cause depression that requires treatment.

It's possible to become pregnant in the weeks right after an abortion procedure.

  • Ask your doctor when it's okay to have sexual intercourse.
  • To prevent infection and pregnancy, make sure to use condoms as directed by your doctor when you start to have intercourse again. This is a good time to also start a highly effective birth control method that fits your lifestyle.

Self-Care

Carefully follow all of your doctor's instructions after you've had a medical or surgical abortion.

If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice.

  • Do not rinse your vagina with fluids (douche).

    This could increase your risk of infections that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

  • Take any medicines your doctor has prescribed.

    Take them exactly as instructed.

  • Ask your doctor when you can return to normal activities or strenuous exercise.

    Most people can return to normal activities 1 to 2 days after an abortion.

  • Ask your doctor when it's okay to have sexual intercourse.

    If you don't want to get pregnant, use birth control when you start having sex again.

Learn more

Credits

Current as of: November 22, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Rebecca H. Allen MD, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.