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Abortion is an outpatient medical procedure, performed using medication or as a minimally invasive surgical procedure, to terminate a pregnancy. The procedure is typically done in the first trimester of pregnancy unless a doctor identifies risks further on. A doctor will perform an abortion if a woman chooses not to continue with a pregnancy, to complete a partial miscarriage, or if an individual has a condition that makes pregnancy life-threatening.
Abortions are performed in an outpatient clinic, a doctor’s office, or in a hospital. In almost all instances, they are safe when a licensed physician performed the procedure, or via medication in the privacy of one’s own home. Women receive follow-up examinations two weeks after a procedure. Complications can arise in women who have IUDs, suspected ectopic pregnancies, certain medical conditions such as bleeding disorders that require blood thinners, or allergies to medications.
Abortions induced via medication use of two different pills. Taken together, the drugs terminate the pregnancy and reduce the side effects, which typically include cramping in the uterus and lower back, and abdomen pain. Once the medication has taken effect, bleeding is common, including blood clots. The pills are effective for women up to ten weeks into pregnancy. Doctors recommend women undergoing this type of abortion have fast access to emergency care in case of side effects from the medications.
A doctor can perform a first-trimester abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, but generally, the procedures happen between the ninth and thirteenth week. Doctors can perform surgical abortions in the office or clinic. Patients receive local anesthesia, and many have the option of additional oral or IV sedation. Abortions performed in the first trimester use a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C), in which the cervix is dilated to allow access. The doctor scrapes the uterine lining with an instrument called a curette. This removes the embryo and the uterine tissue. Another first-trimester abortion procedure is a vacuum aspiration, which uses a suction tool to remove the embryo and the uterine lining.
Second-trimester abortions follow a similar procedure that is slightly more invasive due to the embryo being larger. A trained physician performs second-trimester abortions using a dilation and evacuation procedure. This procedure combines vacuum evacuation of most of the tissue, followed by a D&C. Third-trimester abortions are more complicated and doctors typically perform them in a hospital. Dilation and extraction (D&X) involves removing the fetus with forceps, again followed by a D&C. The patient will receive anesthesia for both these procedures and will require a check-up two weeks later.