Different methods of abortion are used depending on the stage of the pregnancy.
Up to 9 weeks of pregnancy
In this case the most common method used is the medical abortion, sometimes known as the abortion pill or a MTOP – medical termination of pregnancy.
This method does not involve any surgery or anaesthetic.
The medical abortion involves taking two treatments that cause the body to reject the pregnancy. This results in a miscarriage.
- The first treatment is a pill (mifepristone), which you swallow.
- The second treatment is prostaglandin, a pessary (a tablet) that is inserted into the vagina 36-48 hours later.
The medication is taken 48 hours apart, and so requires two separate visits to the clinic, which are usually on top of the initial assessment visit.
Four to six hours after this the pregnancy should end in a very heavy bleed, and you may experience painful, period-pain type cramps.
Usually you would not have to stay overnight for a medical abortion, however whilst this is nearly always successful, sometimes the treatments don’t work. If the medical abortion does not work, you would need a vacuum aspiration with some form of anaesthetic, when you may have to stay in overnight.
Between 7 and 15 weeks
If you have an abortion between 7 and 15 weeks, the most common method used is vacuum aspiration.
This is not a surgical procedure, but does involve having a local or, in some cases, a general anaesthetic where you go to sleep.
The vacuum aspiration involves a day visit or an overnight stay in a clinic.
- A tube is inserted into the vagina and passed through the cervix to the womb.
- The foetus and contents of the womb are sucked out and the pregnancy ends.
- This all happens very quickly - within a few hours the woman is allowed to return home.
Over 15 weeks
As a pregnancy continues, the foetus grows bigger and so methods of abortion over 15 weeks may vary.
They usually involve having a general anaesthetic and the surgical opening of the cervix to enable removal of the foetus using suction and forceps.
If the pregnancy is over 20 weeks you will be required to stay in the hospital overnight.
It is also possible that you could have a late medical abortion between 13 and 20 weeks, however, higher doses of treatment would be used and it would take longer to complete.
Most women could still go home the same day, but some might need an overnight stay in hospital.
What happens afterwards?
Within the weeks following the abortion you will see a doctor for a check-up.
Also, after an abortion it is normal to experience bleeding and discomfort for a few days, and it might feel a bit like you are having a period.
It is very important to see a doctor if you develop an infection, so seek help immediately if you:
- are bleeding very heavily
- have pain in your lower belly
- feel very unwell.
Different women will experience different emotions after having an abortion. Some women may need time off work but others will continue as normal.
It’s important to have someone you can talk to if you need support. Ask your clinic where to go for help.