Types of Abortions


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The type of abortion you may have will depend on how far in your pregnancy you are, if you have any medical conditions that may affect the procedure, and whether you would like to be awake or asleep during the procedure.  There are health risks associated with having a general anaesthetic if you suffer from asthma or a heart condition so this may affect what treatment you can have. 

Your pregnancy dates are calculated from the first day of your last period.  Every clinic varies slightly as to what treatment is offered at each stage of pregnancy but they will discuss all your options with you before deciding on a treatment.

Early Medical Abortion – The Abortion Pill

Under 9 weeks pregnant.

This treatment involves taking two pills orally 48, 24 or 6-8 hours apart (the correct time gap depends on the individual's circumstances). The first pill is a drug called mifepristone.  As your pregnancy progresses, your body will start to prepare for the changes and one of the very early processes is when hormones in your body start to adjust to make the lining of the womb ready for the egg that has been fertilised. Mifepristone stops this form happening.

The second drug tablet called prostaglandin and is taken two days later.  This works within four to six hours to break down the lining of the womb. As the lining is broken down, the embryo is also removed.

The result of these tablets is akin to a really heavy period.  It can be painful but normal painkillers can be taken to help soothe the pain. There can also be some side effects to taking this medicine such as nausea, sickness and diarrhoea.

This method may not be available everywhere so it is best to check first.

Vacuum Aspiration or Suction Method

7 – 15 weeks pregnant.

The suction method is usually carried out under local anaesthetic but sometimes you can choose to have no anaesthetic at all.    The neck of the womb, called the cervix, is opened or dilated.  A tablet may be placed in the vagina so that the cervix becomes softer and opens more easily.  This allows a tube to be inserted through the vagina to gently suck the foetus from the womb.  Some of the surrounding tissue is also removed to ensure nothing is missed, as this could cause serious problems. 

Vacuum Aspiration is a very quick procedure, taking 5 -10 minutes to complete. Most women go home within an hour or so. 

You will experience some vaginal bleeding, a bit like a heavy period for a couple of weeks after the treatment.  You might find that you have less bleeding after this treatment than with the others.

Surgical Dilation & Evacuation (D&E)

From 15 weeks pregnant.

Surgical Dilation and Evacuation is carried out under general anaesthetic so carries risks associated with being anaesthetised.  You should always follow the instructions given to you prior to your treatment as it may require you to have an empty stomach or fast for a certain period beforehand.

The cervix is opened so the foetus can be removed using a surgical tool such as forceps, and a suction tube.  The contents of your womb are carefully checked to make sure the abortion has been completed fully. 

This procedure usually takes around 20 -30 minutes and if it goes smoothly and there are no complications you should be able to go home the same day.

You will experience vaginal bleeding for a couple of weeks after this procedure.

Late Abortion

20-24 weeks pregnant.

There are two ways an abortion can be carried out at this stage. 

  • Surgical 2-Stage Abortion

You will be given a general anaesthetic for this treatment so you should follow all the instructions you have been given beforehand.  This treatment carries the risks associated with having a general anaesthetic and any other surgical procedure. 

The first stage is carried out by softening and dilating the cervix then stopping the heart of the foetus, from beating.  Stage two is when the foetus is removed with forceps and a suction tube, as in the surgical and dilation method. 

As this is a two stage procedure it usually means you will have to stay in hospital overnight.

  • Medically Induced Abortion

This method results in symptoms similar to a late natural miscarriage. 

You will be awake throughout the first part of this treatment and will receive a general anaesthetic for the second part.

The medicine used for an early abortion, prostaglandin is injected direct into the womb causing strong contractions as if you were in labour.  These contractions can last between six and 12 hours during which time you may be offered painkillers 

Again the foetus is removed with forceps and a suction tube as in the Surgical and Dilation method. 

You usually have to stay overnight with this method.


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