What is an abortion?
Abortion is the voluntary termination of a pregnancy prior to the development or birth of a child. The procedure expels the embryo or fetus from the body, usually before it can survive outside of the parent. There are various methods of abortion, and some can be done at home, while others require an in-clinic procedure.
Methods of Abortion
Medication abortion (0-10 weeks)
Medication abortion, also known as the “abortion pill,” entails taking two pills several hours apart and is effective up to 10 weeks after an individual’s last menstrual period. The first pill, mifepristone, is administered at the clinic. Mifepristone blocks production of progesterone, a hormone that thickens the lining of the uterus during pregnancy. The second pill, misoprostol, can be taken up to 48 hours later in a different location, either vaginally or buccally (placed in the cheek). Misoprostol softens the cervix and causes the uterus to expel the embryo and uterine lining, resulting in heavy bleeding and cramping similar to a menstrual period.
Aspiration Abortion (6-15 weeks)
Aspiration abortion is an in-clinic surgery that removes the embryo or fetus, along with the uterine lining, using gentle suction. Patients are given painkillers prior to the procedure, and, if it has been over 12 weeks since a patient’s last menstrual period, they may be given mifepristone to soften the cervix (the opening to the uterus). A dilator will be inserted into the cervix to stretch it prior to or during the procedure.
During the procedure itself, the doctor will insert a tube into the uterus and use a suction device to empty it. This may cause moderate cramping. The doctor may then use an instrument called a curette to ensure that the uterus is completely empty. While preparing for the procedure may take several hours, the procedure itself lasts only twenty minutes.
Dilation and Evacuation (15 weeks +)
Dilation and Evacuation, also known as a D&E abortion, combines suction with the use of forceps to terminate a pregnancy. To prepare for the procedure, the patient is given painkillers and a dilator is inserted into the cervix in order to stretch it. The patient may need to return to the clinic the next day depending on how long dilation takes. During the procedure, the patient may be administered general anesthesia, or they may be given sedatives. The doctor will place a tube into the uterus and use gentle suction to remove the amniotic fluid. They will then use forceps to remove fetal tissue from the uterus. Finally, the doctor will apply suction to the uterus a second time to ensure that it is completely empty.
After an abortion
Depending on the abortion method used, patients may require more or less recovery time—often at least a day for medical abortions and more for surgical abortions. Patients may be asked to call or to return to the clinic for a followup appointment to ensure that there are no complications. Individuals obtaining surgical abortions (aspiration or D&E) should also have someone pick them up at the clinic, as the sedatives used during the procedures impair driving ability.
How to obtain an abortion
Abortion services are available at a large number of locations, including many hospitals, family-planning clinics, and OB/GYN offices. Be aware, however, that not every family-planning clinic is there to help—a large number of facilities, often known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers, present themselves as legitimate family-planning clinics but provide misinformation in order to scare or shame individuals out of seeking abortion care. Find a list of abortion providers in Maryland here.
Depending on the method used and your insurance plan, an abortion can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you cannot afford an abortion on your own, there are people who can help. Contact the Baltimore Abortion Fund to find out more.
Is abortion dangerous? Does it cause cancer? Will it make me infertile?
No, no, and no. Anti-choice activists spread myths about abortion to keep people from seeking the care they need. These myths have been scientifically disproven time and time again, but they’re scary enough that they stick. Check out our page on abortion myths to check what’s true and what’s an anti-choice lie.
“Abortion and Cancer Risk,” American Cancer Society, June 19, 2014, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/medical-treatments/abortion-and-breast-cancer-risk.html.
“Abortion Pill: What Is a Medical Abortion?,” Healthline, August 30, 2016, https://www.healthline.com/health/abortion-pill.
Victoria Department of Health & Human Services, “Abortion Procedures – Medication,” BetterHealth Channel, accessed July 12, 2019, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au:443/health/healthyliving/abortion-procedures-medication.
Victoria Department of Health & Human Services, “Abortion Procedures – Surgical,” BetterHealth Channel, 2018, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au:443/health/healthyliving/abortion-procedures-surgical.
UK National Health Service, “Can Having an Abortion Affect My Fertility?,” NHS, June 27, 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/womens-health/can-having-an-abortion-affect-my-fertility/.
“Induced Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, May 3, 2016, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states.
“Medication Abortion,” Guttmacher Institute, April 26, 2017, https://www.guttmacher.org/evidence-you-can-use/medication-abortion.
Michelle M. Chen et al., “Safety of Adult Tonsillectomy: A Population-Level Analysis of 5968 Patients,” JAMA Otolaryngology– Head & Neck Surgery 140, no. 3 (March 2014): 197–202, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaoto.2013.6215.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Second-Trimester Abortion,” Practice Bulletin: Clinical Management Guidelines for Obstetrician-Gynecologists, no. 135 (2019), https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Practice-Bulletins/Committee-on-Practice-Bulletins-Gynecology/Second-Trimester-Abortion?IsMobileSet=false
“Surgical Abortion (First Trimester),” UCSF Health, accessed July 12, 2019, https://www.ucsfhealth.org/treatments/surgical_abortion_first_trimester/
“Surgical Abortion (Second Trimester),” UCSF Health, accessed July 12, 2019, https://www.ucsfhealth.org/treatments/surgical_abortion_second_trimester/.