Abortion Procedures & Risks
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, its risks and the impact it may have had on their lives before they made their decision.
Manual Vacuum Aspiration: up to 7 weeks after last menstrual period (LMP).
This surgical abortion is done early in the pregnancy up until 7 weeks after the woman's 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.
Suction Curettage: between 6 and 14 weeks after LMP.
This is the most common surgical abortion procedure. Because the baby is larger, the doctor must first stretch open the cervix using metal rods. 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, then connects this tube to a suction machine. The suction pulls the fetus' body apart and out of the uterus. The doctor may also use a loop-shaped knife called a curette to scrape the fetus and fetal parts out of the uterus. (The doctor may refer to the fetus and fetal parts as the “products of conception.”).
Dilation and Evacuation (D&E): between 13 and 24 weeks after LMP.
This surgical abortion is done during the second trimester of pregnancy. 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 first trimester abortion. This is done by inserting numerous thin rods made of seaweed a day or two before the abortion. Once the cervix is stretched open the doctor pulls out the fetal parts with forceps. The fetus' skull is crushed to ease removal. A sharp tool (called a curette) is also used to scrape out the contents of the uterus, removing any remaining tissue.
Dilation and Extraction (D&X) (partial-birth abortion): from 20 weeks after LMP to full-term.
This procedure takes three days. During the first two days, the cervix is stretched open using thin rods made of seaweed, and medication is given for pain. On the third day, the abortion doctor uses ultrasound to locate the legs of the fetus. Grasping a leg 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.
RU486 (not the same as the Morning After Pill), Mifepristone (Abortion Pill): Within 4 to 7 weeks after LMP.
This drug is only approved for use in women up to the 49th day after their last menstrual period. The procedure usually requires three office visits. On the first visit, the woman is given pills to cause the death of the embryo. Two days later, if the abortion has not occurred, she is given a second drug which causes cramps to expel the embryo. The last visit is to determine if the procedure has been completed. RU486 will not work in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. This is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the embryo lodges outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. If an ectopic pregnancy is not diagnosed early, the tube may burst, causing internal bleeding and in some cases, the death of the woman.
Consider the Risks of Abortion
Side effects may occur with induced abortion, whether surgical or by pill. These include abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Abortion also carries the risk of significant complications such as bleeding, infection, and damage to organs. Serious complications occur in less than 1 out of 100 early abortions and in about 1 out of every 50 later abortions. Complications may include:
- Heavy Bleeding - Some bleeding after abortion is normal. However, if the cervix is torn or the uterus is punctured, there is a risk of severe bleeding known as hemorrhaging. When this happens, a blood transfusion may be required. Severe bleeding is also a risk with the use of RU486. One in 100 women who use RU486 require surgery to stop the bleeding.
- Infection - Infection can develop from the insertion of medical instruments into the uterus, or from fetal parts that are mistakenly left inside (known as an incomplete abortion). A pelvic infection may lead to persistent fever over several days and extended hospitalization. It can also cause scarring of the pelvic organs.
- Incomplete Abortion - Some fetal parts may be mistakenly left inside after the abortion. Bleeding and infection may result.
- Sepsis - A number of RU486 or mifepristone users have died as a result of sepsis (total body infection).
- Anesthesia - Complications from general anesthesia used during abortion surgery may result in convulsions, heart attack, and in extreme cases, death. It also increases the risk of other serious complications by two and a half times.
- Damage to the Cervix - The cervix may be cut, torn, or damaged by abortion instruments. This can cause excessive bleeding that requires surgical repair.
- Scarring of the Uterine Lining - Suction tubing, curettes, and other abortion instruments may cause permanent scarring of the uterine lining.
- Perforation of the Uterus - The uterus may be punctured or torn by abortion instruments. The risk of this complication increases with the length of the pregnancy. If this occurs, major surgery may be required, including removal of the uterus (known as a hysterectomy).
- Damage to Internal Organs - When the uterus is punctured or torn, there is also a risk that damage will occur to nearby organs such as the bowel and bladder.
- Death - In extreme cases, other physical complications from abortion including excessive bleeding, infection, organ damage from a perforated uterus, and adverse reactions to anesthesia may lead to death. This complication is rare, but is real.
Consider Other Risks of Abortion
Abortion and Preterm Birth: Women who undergo one or more induced abortions carry a significantly increased risk of delivering prematurely in the future. Premature delivery is associated with higher rates of cerebral palsy, as well as other complications of prematurity (brain, respiratory, bowel, and eye problems).
Abortion and Breast Cancer: Medical experts are still researching and debating the linkage between abortion and breast cancer. Here are some important facts:
- Carrying your first pregnancy to full term gives protection against breast cancer. Choosing abortion causes loss of that protection.
- A number of reliable studies have concluded that there may be a link between abortion and the later development of breast cancer.
Emotional and Psychological Impact: There is evidence that abortion is associated with a decrease in both emotional and physical health. For some women these negative emotions may be very strong, and can appear within days or after many years. This psychological response is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the symptoms are:
- Eating disorders
- Relationship problems
- Flashbacks of abortion
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sexual dysfunction
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Spiritual Consequences: People have different understandings of God. Whatever your present beliefs may be, there is a spiritual side to abortion that deserves to be considered. Having an abortion may affect more than just your body and your mind -- it may have an impact on your relationship with God. What is God's desire for you in this situation? How does God see your unborn child? These are important questions to consider.
Explore Your Options
You have the legal right to choose the outcome of your pregnancy. But real empowerment comes when you find the resources and inner strength necessary to make your best choice. Here are some other options:
Choosing to continue your pregnancy and to parent is very challenging. But with the support of caring people, parenting classes, and other resources, many women find the help they need to make this choice.
You may decide to place your child for adoption. Each year over 50,000 women in America make this choice. This loving decision is often made by women who first thought abortion was their only way out.
Help Is Available
Facing an unexpected pregnancy can seem overwhelming. Our trained advocates are available to help you explore you options and answer your questions about abortion.
We do not provide or refer for abortions.
If our Center is closed and you need help right away or to find a pregnancy center near you, go to PregnancyDecisionLine.org or call 1- 877-395-HELP