What Are the Different Types of Abortion?

Have you discovered you are pregnant, but you were not expecting it? Many women understand what you are going through because 45% – nearly half – of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Deciding what to do about an unexpected pregnancy may be one of the most difficult decisions you have ever faced. And educating yourself about each pregnancy option, including parenting, adoption, and abortion, is crucial. It helps you make a decision without regret, one that you can look back on years down the road and know that you made the best decision for yourself with the right information.

If you are considering abortion, it is good to have all the facts before moving forward, so we are glad you are here. Read on to learn about the different types of abortion, when they are typically offered, and potential risks.

What Are the Different Types of Abortion?

There are two types of abortion available: medical abortion and surgical abortion. A healthcare provider will consider factors such as your health and how far along you are in your pregnancy to know which abortion option is available to you for your specific situation.

We will discuss each type of abortion next to help you understand them better.

Medical Abortion

You may have heard a medical abortion referred to as a medication abortion, the abortion pill, or RU-486, but they are all terms used to describe an abortion using medication rather than a surgical procedure.

When can you have a medical abortion?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the abortion pill for medical abortions up to seventy days since the first day of your last period (LMP).

Are there reasons medical abortion is not an option?

Yes, there are situations when a healthcare professional may tell you that you cannot have a medical abortion.

Medical abortion is not an option if you:

  • Are being pressured or coerced into having an abortion.
  • Do not have access to medical care in case of complications.
  • Are too far along in your pregnancy.
  • Have a pregnancy outside of your uterus, such as an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Have an intrauterine device (IUD).
  • Have an untreated sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Are allergic to abortion medications.
  • Have certain medical conditions.
  • Take certain medications like blood thinners or steroids.

What happens during a medical abortion?

During a medical abortion, you will take two different medications: mifepristone and misoprostol.

You will first take mifepristone to block your body from producing the progesterone hormone. Blocking progesterone causes the embryo’s heart to stop beating and it will detach from the uterine lining.

The second medication, misoprostol, is taken approximately 24 hours later. Misoprostol causes your uterus to contract, so the embryo is expelled to end the pregnancy.

According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms during a medical abortion may include:

  • Heavy uterine cramps
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding, including blood clots
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Low-grade fever (under 101°)
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore breasts
  • Drowsiness
  • Visualizing the gestational sac or embryo when it passes

Surgical Abortion

A surgical abortion is performed in a clinic or hospital. There are three different types of surgical abortions, depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Surgical abortions include vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage (D&C), and dilation and evacuation (D&E).

1. Vacuum aspiration abortion

A vacuum aspiration abortion is used during the first trimester of pregnancy (the first twelve weeks), and it is the most common surgical abortion procedure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 91% of women have abortions at thirteen weeks of pregnancy or less.

Some clinics use the vacuum aspiration procedure up to 14-16 weeks after the first day of your last period.

The procedure takes about ten to fifteen minutes to perform. Manual aspiration involves the use of a specially designed syringe to apply suction. When using a machine vacuum, a thin tube (cannula) is attached by tubing to a bottle and a pump, which provides a vacuum. The cannula is passed into the uterus, the pump is turned on, and the tissue is removed from the uterus.

Both approaches may also involve the use of a cervical dilator inserted into the cervix the day before the procedure to dilate (open) the cervix. Antibiotics may be given as well to prevent infection.

2. D&C abortion

A D&C abortion is usually performed between twelve and fifteen weeks of pregnancy. During a D&C abortion, curette instruments are used after vacuum aspiration to remove anything remaining in your uterus. A D&C abortion also takes about ten to fifteen minutes.

3. D&E abortion

Once you are beyond sixteen weeks of pregnancy, the clinic or hospital will typically perform a D&E abortion.

Your cervix needs to be prepared before the procedure, so the provider will insert dilating sticks called laminaria into your cervix the day before a D&E abortion.

On the day of the D&E abortion, numbing medication is used, and your cervix will be stretched open further with dilating rods. This is done since the fetus is larger and needs room to pass.

The provider then uses a combination of suction, curettes, and forceps to complete the abortion. The D&E abortion lasts about thirty minutes.

You may go home with pain medication and antibiotics after any type of surgical abortion.

What Are the Risks Associated With Having an Abortion?

Abortion risks increase the further along you are in your pregnancy. Before moving forward with any medication or procedure, it is important to do your research. For a medical or surgical abortion, possible risks include:

  • Life-threatening infection
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • Hemorrhage (excessive bleeding)
  • Incomplete abortion, requiring another procedure
  • Future infertility – inability to get pregnant when ready or to carry a pregnancy to term successfully
  • Mental health challenges

When To Seek Medical Attention After an Abortion

Trust your gut. If you are concerned about anything at all, speak with a healthcare professional.

Seek immediate medical attention after an abortion if you:

  • Have pain worse than a period or when the pain is not alleviated by over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Have a fever over 100.4° or flu-like symptoms.
  • Are passing clots larger than a golf ball.
  • Are soaking two maxi pads every hour for two consecutive hours.
  • Vomit for more than four hours.
  • Have increased vaginal discharge or odorous discharge.
  • Still feel pregnant a week or two after the abortion.

Get the Support You Deserve

Coping with an unexpected pregnancy can be scary and hard. At Willow Womens Center, we offer compassionate medical care and support during this challenging time.

Our licensed healthcare professionals are here to provide pregnancy medical services that will give you the answers you need to make an informed decision about your pregnancy.

Contact us today for your confidential appointment.