Can you explain what happens during an abortion procedure?
There are various procedures used to abort a pregnancy.
The procedure is chosen depending on how far along the pregnancy is.
Within 4 to 7 weeks after last menstrual period (LMP): RU486, Mifepristone (Abortion Pill)
This drug is only approved for use in women up to the 49th day after their last menstrual period. The procedure usually requires three office visits. On the first visit, the woman is given pills to cause the death of the embryo. Two days later, if the abortion has not occurred, she is given a second drug which causes cramps to expel the embryo. The last visit is a follow up ultrasound to determine if the procedure has been completed.
RU486 will not work in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. This is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the embryo lodges outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. If not diagnosed early, the tube may burst, causing internal bleeding and in some cases, the death of the woman.
Up to 7 weeks after last menstrual period (LMP): Manual Vacuum Aspiration
This surgical abortion is done early in the pregnancy up until 7 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. A long, thin tube is inserted into the uterus. A large syringe is attached to the tube and the embryo is suctioned out.
Between 6 to 14 weeks after LMP: Suction Curettage
This is the most common surgical abortion procedure. Because the baby is larger, the doctor must first stretch open the cervix using metal rods. Opening the cervix may be painful, so local or general anesthesia is typically needed. After the cervix is stretched open, the doctor inserts a hard plastic tube into the uterus, and then connects this tube to a suction machine. The suction pulls the fetus’ body apart and out of the uterus. The doctor may also use a loop-shaped knife called a curette to scrape the fetus and fetal parts out of the uterus. (The doctor may refer to the fetus and fetal parts as the “products of conception.”).
Between 13 to 24 weeks after LMP: Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)
This surgical abortion is done during the second trimester of pregnancy. At this point in pregnancy, the fetus is too large to be broken up by suction alone 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 numerous thin rods made of seaweed a day or two before the abortion. Once the cervix is stretched open the doctor pulls out the fetal parts with forceps. The fetus’ skull is crushed to ease removal. A sharp tool (called a curette) is also used to scrape out the contents of the uterus, removing any remaining tissue.