How do abortions actually work?

When abortion is made safe, legal, and accessible, it is a low risk and simple medical procedure. Early in pregnancy, people who seek abortions can do so surgically, with a procedure called a vacuum aspiration (also commonly known as a Dilation and Curettage or “D&C”), or can do so medically with a two-step medication regimen taken in the office and at home. Second trimester abortions, up to 24 weeks, are usually performed surgically using a procedure called Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). Procedures occurring later in pregnancy are very rare and usually are the result of fetal anomalies. Unfortunately, due to false information and terminology regarding abortion in the media and political sphere, many people have difficulty understanding the medical realities of abortion care. Here are a couple resources that portray a realistic image of abortion care.

To get a quick, 3 minute overview :

  • What actually happens when you have an abortion

    IFL Science

    This video, made by AsapSCIENCE provides a brief, yet informative, overview of the types of abortion procedures available, their relative safety, and how they are performed.
    This video is fantastic as a primer, but there are several points we should clarify that aren’t totally correct any more:

    • Medical abortion is effective (and FDA-approved) up to 70 days of pregnancy, which is 10 weeks gestational age. (The video says 49 days, which was true up until 2016.)
    • Unlike the video says, a ‘curette’ is not actually used in a pregnancy-related D&C procedure (1:11 mark). This is an outdated means of performing an abortion or removing miscarriage tissue, and carries a higher rate of complications. In modern-day surgical abortion, there is no ‘curette’ used (only a suction cannula), and there is no “scraping” the uterus.

Having trouble imagining what an abortion clinic or procedure room looks like?

  • What does the room where you get an abortion look like? | Danielle Campoamor | July 16, 2018

    This article describes various settings in which abortion care is provided. The set-ups of two different abortion care facilities are reviewed, and there are interviews with individuals about their experiences having abortions and impressions of the clinical setup. While each facility is different, this article conveys that just like other healthcare settings, these facilities are set up for patient safety and comfort.

For medical expertise on induced abortions:

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Not sure how people decide between a medical abortion and surgical abortion? Check out this side by side comparison of

  • Early Abortion Options: Fact Sheet | July 1, 2019

    The Reproductive Access Project is a nonprofit organization that works with healthcare practitioners to better integrate abortion and contraceptive care into medical practice. This fact sheet compares medical abortions and surgical abortion procedures, highlighting their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Heard some confusing information about medical abortion? Clear that up here:

  • Rhetoric vs. Reality: Setting the Record Straight on Medication Abortion | Nora Ellman and Jamila Taylor | June 10, 2019

    The Center for American Progress published this article to dispel many of the misconceptions about medical abortions that arise due to political rhetoric and media coverage. While dense, this article provides detailed and up to date information (June 2019) regarding the safety and efficacy of medication abortions as well as the barriers to accessing this medical care.

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