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Medical vs. Surgical Abortion: What to Expect

If you recently found out about an unexpected pregnancy, you might be looking into pregnancy options. If you are considering abortion, you are probably wondering about the different types of abortion. Here is what you need to know about abortion procedures and what to expect from each.

Please note: Care Net of Puget Sound provides free and medically accurate information on abortion but does not refer for or perform abortions.

Medical Abortion vs. Surgical Abortion and What to Expect

There are two types of abortions—medical abortion and surgical abortion. One is an oral or vaginal medication taken at home, and the other is a surgical operation done in a clinic.

What type of abortion you can have is based on gestational age (the length of pregnancy after the first day of the last menstrual period), viability (potential ability to live outside of the uterus), and where your pregnancy is growing.

Medical Abortion (Abortion Pill):

A medical abortion, also referred to as the abortion pill, is generally a combination of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. It is prescribed to end an early pregnancy, up to 10 weeks. Mifepristone blocks your body’s natural production of progesterone in order to end the pregnancy’s growth. This pill is taken at a clinic.

The second pill, misoprostol, softens the cervix and prepares the body to expel the pregnancy. This pill causes heavy bleeding and cramping to expel your pregnancy from your uterus. 

The abortion pill becomes less effective the farther along you are in your pregnancy. The farther along you are, the more you risk serious complications and the need for emergency surgery to complete the procedure. According to the Guttmacher Institute, medical abortion accounts for 54% of all abortions. 

Despite recent changes to online abortion pill availability, the FDA still recommends extreme caution when buying the abortion pill online and does not recommend buying the mifepristone (the first abortion pill) online.

What to expect when taking the abortion pill

After taking both abortion pills, you will experience strong cramps and heavy bleeding followed by the passing of large blood clots and the passing of the fetus or embryo. It’s important to prepare physically and emotionally for this process, especially if you are more than eight weeks pregnant. 

The abortion pill may be a more private option since it is taken in the comfort of your own home, but it’s important to consider the possibility of feeling a deep emotional response during or after the abortion process. It’s a good idea to make sure you have support, so you don’t go through this alone.

Other abortion pill side effects: 

  • Cramping and vaginal bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Fever/chills
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness

It is possible to have an incomplete abortion so you should follow up with your provider 7 to 14 days after completing the abortion pill regimen to ensure the abortion was completed successfully and no infection exists.  

For your own safety, if you are experiencing…

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Passing large blood clots
  • Suffering from severe pain
  • Experiencing a fluctuating temperature
  • Bleeding two weeks after an abortion

…you need to seek medical care right away. It’s important to be completely honest with your healthcare practitioner or hospital/ER staff regarding the medication you’ve taken so they can offer the proper treatment/care plan.

What if I change my mind after taking the abortion pill?

If you take the abortion pill and decide you don’t want to go through with it, the abortion may be able to be reversed. Within 24 to 72 hours of taking the first pill, mifepristone, call the Abortion Pill Reversal 24/7 helpline at 877-558-0333 or chat with someone online to get connected to a medical provider in your area to start reversal treatment.

Surgical abortion (in-clinic abortion):

A surgical abortion is a procedure performed in a clinic by medical practitioners. Surgical abortion generally works by dilating the cervix and using suction and surgical tools to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. This type of abortion can be used within the 1st trimester but is most commonly used after 10 weeks.

Types of surgical abortion based on weeks pregnant:

Suction/Aspiration Abortion (up to 13 weeks) 

  • A numbing medicine will be applied around the cervix. Using dilation medication and/or instruments, your cervix will be opened up to allow the suction device to enter the uterus to remove the pregnancy. Most women feel strong cramping during the procedure.  

Dilation and Curettage (D&C) (before 13 weeks) 

  • D&C is similar to a suction abortion in that it uses dilation medication and/or instruments and a suction device to expel the pregnancy. This procedure also includes a surgical instrument called a curette, a sharp instrument to scrape the remains of your pregnancy out of your uterus. Most women feel strong cramping during the procedure. 

Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) (after 13 weeks) This is typically done later in the 2nd trimester and is typically performed over two days to ensure proper dilation. It is similar to a D&C, but can require more surgical instruments to remove the pregnancy and may take longer. Most women feel strong cramping during the procedure.

What to expect when having a surgical abortion:

A surgical abortion will be performed in a hospital or surgical clinic. Most women are given a general anesthetic or sedation. If you are awake during the procedure, you will most likely experience cramping. 

After the procedure, you may feel cramping and have light to mild bleeding. You will spend a few hours in the recovery room to be monitored for heavy bleeding and health complications.

Just like any medical procedure, each has its own side effects you should be aware of and consider.

Surgical abortion side effects: 

  • Infection
  • Heavy bleeding
  • A hole or tear in the wall of the uterus
  • Injury to the cervix

Where can I find more information?

If you’re looking for a safe, confidential place to explore your pregnancy options, our team is here for you. At Care Net of Puget Sound we believe in empowering women like you with the information they need to be fully informed in their decisions. We do not charge for any of our services or refer for/perform abortions so there is no pressure to make a specific decision. 

Schedule your pregnancy consultation at no cost today.

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