Learn About Abortion Procedures

Abortion is not just a simple medical procedure.  For many women, it is a life changing event with significant physical, emotional and spiritual consequences.  Most women who struggle with past abortions say that they wish they had been told all of the facts about abortion and its risks.

Planning Life has caring counselors available to answer your questions and help you as you consider your options.  You can also read below to learn more about the different abortion procedures and their potential risks.

Chemical Abortions

Also known as medical abortions, chemical abortions are non-surgical methods of abortion.  A combination of prescription hormones are given up to 49 days after the last menstrual period.  The first hormone, RU486, (also called mifepristone or the "Abortion Pill") is given on the first visit to cause death of the embryo.  Two days later the woman returns and if the embryo and placenta have not been expelled from the uterus, a second medication called misoprostol is given to make that happen.  The woman will experience cramping, some heavy bleeding, and passing of tissue at home.

Emergency contraception (the "Morning After Pill") can be considered as a medical or chemical abortion as it can cause an already fertilized egg to be expelled from the uterus.  However, this is usually before it would implant into the lining of the uterus.

Surgical Abortions

Surgical abortions require the use of instruments to remove the fetus, placenta, and membranes from the uterus.  There are several different types that depend on the gestational age.

Manual Vacuum Aspiration is performed very early in pregnancy - up to 7 weeks after the last menstrual period.  A long thin tube is inserted into the uterus.  A large syringe is attached to the tube and the embryo is suctioned out.

Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedures are done between 6 and 14 weeks after the last menstrual period.  This is the most common abortion procedure.  Because the embryo or fetus is larger, the doctor must first stretch open the cervix using metal rods (dilators).  Opening the cervix may be painful, so local or general anesthesia is typically needed.  After the  cervix is stretched open, the doctor inserts a hard plastic tube into the uterus and connects it to a suction machine.  The suction pulls the fetus, placenta and membranes out of the uterus.  (The fetus' body may be pulled apart in this process).  The doctor may also use a loop shaped curette to remove any remaining tissue.

Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is used in the second trimester (13 to 24 weeks after the last menstrual period).  At this point in pregnancy the fetus is too large to be broken up by suction alone and will not pass through the suction tubing.  In this procedure the cervix must be opened wider than in a 1st trimester D&C.  This is done by inserting numerous thin rods made of seaweed type material (laminaria) into the cervical canal one to two days before the procedure.  Once the cervix is stretched open the doctor pulls out the fetal parts with forceps.  The fetus' skull may be crushed to ease removal.  A sharp loop shaped curette is also used to scrape out the uterus removing any tissue.

Dilation and Extraction (D&E or "partial birth abortion") is a procedure performed anywhere from 20 weeks after the last menstrual period to full term.  This procedure takes three days with the first two days used to stretch open the cervix with laminaria (thin rods made of seaweed type material).  On the third day, the doctor uses an ultrasound to locate the legs of the fetus.  Grasping the legs with forceps, the doctor delivers the fetus up to the head.  Next scissors are inserted into the base of the skull to create an opening.  A suction catheter is placed into the opening to remove the brain.  The skull collapses and the fetus is removed.  The placenta and membranes have to be removed after this.