Surgical Abortion
Shutterstock/Yuriy Bartenev

Surgical abortion

For a surgical abortion you have an operation. There are two main types of operation, depending on how long you’ve been pregnant.

For both operations, you get an anaesthetic. This could be a general anaesthetic, so you’re asleep during the operation. You can also just have a local anaesthetic: an injection makes your cervix numb so you don’t feel anything, but you stay awake during the operation.

After a surgical abortion you can feel sick and faint, and have painful stomach cramps.

  • Vacuum Aspiration (up to 15 weeks of pregnancy):
    With this method the foetus is sucked out of the womb through a tube. The procedure takes 3 to 10 minutes and you may have either a local or general anaesthetic, depending on how many weeks you’ve been pregnant. The cervix is widened, and may be softened a few hours before the abortion. You will be able to go home the same day. Some bleeding may occur for up to 21 days after the operation, but usually lasts from 9 to 10 days, with quite heavy bleeding for the first 2 to 3 days. This method is considered to be very safe.
  • Surgical Dilation and Evacuation (from 12-14 weeks of pregnancy):
    Similar to vacuum aspiration. The cervix is gently widened. Depending on the stage of pregnancy this might take anything from two hours to 2 days. Forceps and a suction tube are used to suck the foetus out of the womb. The procedure takes about 10-20 minutes, and you may be able to go home the same day. You may bleed lightly for up to 21 days afterwards.
  • Dilatation and Curettage (D&C):
    With this method, the cervix is dilated and then the foetus and placenta are scraped out of the womb. The WHO recommends the vacuum aspiration method, which is considered much safer. D&C should only be performed by a skilled doctor under the appropriate supervision.

Late Abortion

You can still have an abortion until you’re 24 weeks pregnant. After 20 weeks, you’ll have to go to hospital and stay overnight, whether you have a medical or surgical abortion.

  • Late Medically-Induced Abortion (20-24 weeks):
    Prostaglandin is injected into the womb, creating contractions similar to labour lasting 6 to 12 hours. This happens while you’re awake, but doctors can give you pain relief.  Dilation and Evacuation (explained above) may be used afterwards to ensure the womb is empty.
  • Late Surgical Two-Stage Abortion (20-24 weeks):
    During the first stage of this procedure the doctors stop the heartbeat of the foetus and soften the cervix. The next day the foetus and tissue can be removed.
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