Get the Facts.
What happens during an abortion?
Many women go into the abortion experience without fully knowing what it entails. However, if you were having a medical operation like heart surgery, you would demand to know all the details and risks before going under the knife, wouldn’t you? Similarly, it’s important to know all the ins and outs of an abortion before deciding to move forward with the procedure. Here is an overview of the types of abortions most commonly practiced in the U.S.
- Manual Vacuum Aspiration
This surgical abortion is done early in the pregnancy up until 7 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. The cervical muscle is stretched with dilators (metal rods) until the opening is wide enough to allow the abortion instruments to pass into the uterus. A handheld syringe is attached to tubing that is inserted into the uterus and the fetus is suctioned out.
- Dilation and Curettage (D&C) – the most common procedure
In this procedure, performed within 6 to 14 weeks after the last menstrual period, the doctor opens the cervix with a dilator (a metal rod) or laminaria (thin sticks derived from plants and inserted several hours before the procedure). The doctor inserts tubing into the uterus and connects the tubing to a suction machine. The suction pulls the fetus’ body apart and out of the uterus. Sometimes the doctor may use a curette, a loop-shaped knife, to scrape the fetal parts out of the uterus.
- Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)
This surgical abortion is done within 13 to 24 weeks after the last menstrual period. Because the developing fetus doubles in size between the eleventh and twelfth weeks of pregnancy, the body of the fetus is too large to be broken up by suction and will not pass through the suction tubing. In this procedure, the cervix must be opened wider than in a first trimester abortion. This is done by inserting laminaria a day or two before the abortion. After opening the cervix, the doctor pulls out the fetal parts with forceps. The fetus’ skull is crushed to ease removal.
- Dilation and Extraction (D&X) – partial birth abortion
This procedure takes three days. During the first two days, the cervix is dilated and medication is given for cramping. On the third day, the woman receives medication to start labor. After labor begins, the abortionist uses ultrasound to locate the baby’s legs. Grasping a leg with forceps, the doctor delivers the baby up to the baby’s head. Next, scissors are inserted into the base of the skull to create an opening. A suction catheter is placed into the opening to remove the skull contents. The skull collapses and the baby is removed.
- RU486, Mifepristone
This procedure is a medical or chemical abortion used for women who are within 30 to 49 days past their last menstrual period. This procedure usually requires three office visits. The RU486 or mifepristone pills are given to the woman who returns two days later for a second medication called misprostol. The combination of these medications causes the uterus to expel the fetus.