Women can undergo two types of abortions: medical and surgical. Medical abortions involve taking two pills (mifeprex and misoprostol) that make the body unable to support a pregnancy. On the other hand, in-clinic surgical abortions remove the fetus from the uterus with instruments and suction. Here's what you need to know about the different abortion methods if you're considering pregnancy termination.
Medical Abortion (Abortion Pills)
"Patients can get a medical abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy," says Rebecca Taub, M.D., a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health and an Ob-Gyn in Washington. "We use the term 'medical abortion' to clarify that this is a type of abortion done with medication, rather than a surgical procedure."
Here's an overview of the medical abortion process:
Some women claim medical abortions feel similar to an early miscarriage. As the pregnancy expels from the body, you'll experience heavy bleeding with large clots and cramping. Other side effects include nausea, diarrhea, mild fever, and fatigue. Most symptoms resolve within a few hours or days, although you probably won't be able to have sex or use a tampon for a couple of weeks. Rare but serious complications include allergic reaction, very heavy bleeding, or blood clots in the uterus.
"Medical abortion is about 95% effective," assures Dr. Taub. "When it's not effective, people may need another dose of misoprostol, or they may need an additional safe procedure (like vacuum aspiration) to remove the remaining contents of the uterus."
Dr. Taub recommends avoiding medical abortion if you have anemia, bleeding conditions, other severe medical conditions, or are allergic to either medication. Having a medical abortion won't affect your ability to conceive in the future.
In-Clinic Surgical Abortions
The other abortion method is an in-clinic surgical procedure - usually either vacuum aspiration and dilation and evacuation (D&E). The best method on the duration of your pregnancy.
Women must receive a surgical abortion in a healthcare center or clinic. The surgeries are minimally invasive, since they "involve no incisions and minimal anesthesia," says Dr. Taub. "Women can also think about what kind of birth control they would like after the procedure, as some methods (such as IUDs) can be easily placed at the time of abortion."
Recovering from surgical abortion shouldn't be too difficult. "Cramping after an abortion procedure is minimal to moderate," says Dr. Taub. You might also have bleeding that "can start like a period, then lightens to spotting before resolving." Many people are able to return to work the next day, although some might want a few days to rest. You'll likely need to avoid sex for a while after the procedure, and your period should return within 4-8 weeks.
Surgical abortions have higher success rates than medical abortions - in fact, Planned Parenthood claims they're more than 99% effective. "Requiring additional treatment afterwards, such as a repeat procedure or additional medications, is very rare," says Dr. Taub. Surgical abortions also won't affect your future pregnancies or fertility.
How to Pick an Abortion Method
Medical abortions are mainly used in the first trimester, and they have the advantage of being done at home. Surgical abortions allow women to get abortions later in their pregnancy, but they're more invasive (although some women enjoy being surrounded by certified professionals during their abortion).
Your personal beliefs also come into play when deciding on an abortion method. Every woman's situation is different and her needs are unique. Talk to your doctor for more information regarding possible emotional side effects of each procedure - and don't be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional if needed.
Also keep in mind that every state and healthcare practice has different policies regarding abortions. Contact your local Planned Parenthood for more information, and visit websites like the Safe Place Project to find abortion clinics near you.