If you have recently discovered you are unexpectedly pregnant, you may think your first and only option is abortion. Choosing abortion is one of the three options you have for your unplanned pregnancy. Make sure, before you schedule an abortion, you know about the risks and complications that are possible.
What do I need to know about abortion?
Having an abortion is a major decision with serious emotional and psychological consequences. Like any other medical procedure, it has risks and possible complications. Get as much information about each procedure as possible before you schedule an appointment.
What are the different types of abortion?
Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy determines what type of abortion procedure you can have. If you are less than 9 or 10 weeks into your pregnancy, you may qualify for a medical abortion. Anything past 10 weeks will require you to have a surgical abortion. The farther along you are in your pregnancy, the more expensive and invasive they become.
Medical abortion has several different names. It is referred to as the abortion pill, RU 486, a self-managed abortion, or at-home abortion. They all sound very simple, but because all or part of this procedure is done at home alone, there could be medical complications you aren’t prepared for.
The abortion pill method is not a “one-pill-and-you’re-done” procedure. It is actually two different drugs taken over an extended period of time. The first drug, mifepristone, thins the lining of your uterus, depriving the fetus of the nutrients it needs to survive. Misoprostol, the second drug, causes your uterus to contract to expel the fetus.
The risks of medical abortion
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the risks of medical abortion:
- Incomplete abortion, which may need to be followed by surgical abortion
- An ongoing unwanted pregnancy if the procedure doesn’t work
- Heavy and prolonged bleeding (including large blood clots)
- Digestive system discomfort
Follow up with a medical professional 1-2 weeks after taking these drugs is essential. You want to make certain the abortion is complete and no fetal parts remain in your uterus. An incomplete procedure is a serious medical concern and will require another process.
There are a variety of surgical procedures depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Surgical abortions or “in-clinic” operations are performed in a medical clinic or doctor’s office. If your pregnancy is between 10 and 14 weeks, you could have a vacuum aspiration. This method utilizes a suction device to extract the pregnancy from your womb.
If you are farther than 14 weeks, you may need to have a dilation and curettage procedure. This procedure requires the abortion provider to dilate your cervix to open it for the fetus to pass through. Once again, a suction device is inserted, but the doctor may also need to use a curette, a loop-shaped knife, to scrape the fetal parts out of the uterus.
The final procedure is known as dilation and evacuation. At this point, the fetus is too large to pass through a suction device. The doctor must first dilate your cervix, which could take several days. The fetus is then removed with forceps.
Surgical abortions are far more invasive. A general or local anesthetic may be available, depending on your provider.
The risks of surgical abortion
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the risks of one type of surgical abortion:
- Perforation of the uterus. Perforation of the uterus occurs when a surgical instrument pokes a hole in the uterus. This happens more often in women who were recently pregnant and in women who have gone through menopause. If a blood vessel or other organ is damaged, a second procedure may be necessary to repair it.
- Damage to the cervix. If the cervix is torn during the D&C, your doctor can apply pressure or medicine to stop the bleeding or close the wound with stitches (sutures).
- Scar tissue on the uterine wall. A D&C could result in the development of scar tissue in the uterus. This can lead to abnormal, absent, or painful menstrual cycles, future miscarriages, and infertility.
- Infection. Infection after a D&C is possible but rare.
What else do I need to know?
First of all, you want to confirm you are pregnant definitely. Visit the Pregnancy Resource Center for a free and confidential medical-grade pregnancy test. You also need to be aware that not only does abortion have physical side effects, it also has emotional and psychological ones. Although many women express relief immediately after an abortion, they also admit they deal with depression, anxiety, and guilt. Sometimes it takes years before these emotions surface.
Take time to think through your decision and the other options available to you. Contact the Pregnancy Resource Center and talk with us as well. We are here to help you through this stressful time.