One of the greatest advancements in women’s health was not the discovery of a new pill or the invention of a revolutionary surgical device. It was the legalization of abortion.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court took abortion from the back-alleys and in one felled swoop struck a blow for the health of millions of women. Still, decades later, many women (and men) do not understand how they are performed. Let’s talk about that today.
Approximately 1.3 million abortions are performed every year in the United States. It is one of the safest medical procedures performed on women and they are generally performed in private clinics that are staffed by medical personnel including, of course, the physician.
There are surgical abortions and non-surgical abortions (otherwise known as “the abortion pill”). Approximately 90% of abortions are performed in the first trimester. The most common surgical method is vacuum aspiration (the suction method). It can be performed with a local anesthetic, mild sedation or general anesthesia. During vacuum aspiration, the cervix (opening of the uterus) is gently widened about a quarter-inch, a narrow tube is inserted through the vagina and cervix to the uterus, and then the contents are vacuumed out. The procedure takes only a couple minutes and the woman can usually return home later in the day.
Abortions are rare in the second trimester, which begins in the 13th week of pregnancy. During this type of abortion, a medication called prostaglandin is given in a clinic. This results in uterine contractions, which can last several hours, and is usually accompanied by some anesthesia. Some second trimester abortions may take more than one day.
The “abortion pill” is generally only offered in the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. Most facilities give two different medications to complete this method. The first one is given in the office and stops the pregnancy from growing. The second medication is taken a few hours to days later. This is the one that causes the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy. Symptoms can be similar to a woman who’s having a miscarriage. Bleeding, cramping and nausea are expected parts of the process. However, if you take your temperature and find a fever or have bleeding that soaks more than 2 pads in an hour for 2 hours, this is not normal. You should contact your provider or possibly go to the nearest emergency room. Otherwise, expect to return to your provider’s office in the next week or two so that they can verify that the pregnancy has ended.
Studies show that both methods are about 99% successful when done properly; and neither have been shown to alter a women’s chances of getting pregnant or carrying a baby in the future.
Of course, if you are considering abortion you need to talk extensively to the clinic about the procedure as they vary from office to office.