What is Surgical Abortion?

When a woman discovers she is pregnant, and the pregnancy was unplanned, she has the legal right to research all her options. If considering an abortion, she may quickly find a lot of terminology that is hard to understand, including phrases like “surgical abortion,” “medical abortion,” and “chemical abortion.” What does it all mean?

First of all, the general term “abortion” is the termination of a pregnancy, which may be spontaneous (miscarriage) or induced. In the United States, legal abortions are performed at certain stages of pregnancy, called trimesters, according to each individual state’s laws. The gestational age (how far along the woman is in the pregnancy), viability (fetal heartbeat) and the location of the pregnancy (in the uterus or outside the uterus) need to be confirmed before an abortion can be performed. This can be done by a pelvic exam and ultrasound. 

medical or chemical abortion refers to the “abortion pill” which can only be used very early in pregnancy. It is important to note that for many women, by the time they find out they are pregnant, it is already too late for this type of abortion, so it is important to get an ultrasound to determine how far along the pregnancy is before pursuing the abortion pill. Check out this post for more information on medical abortions.

Surgical abortion is the removal of a pregnancy from the uterus using medical instruments. Common types of surgical abortion include suction abortion (vacuum aspiration), dilation & curettage (D&C), and dilation & evacuation (D&E). Suction abortions and D&Cs can be performed up to 13 weeks 6 days of pregnancy while D&E’s may be performed between 13 and 21 weeks of pregnancy. 

First trimester abortions (suction abortion and D&C) are typically a same-day process performed in an office or clinic, and involve a procedure to widen the cervix and remove the contents of the uterus using suction and/or scraping of the uterine walls. Possible complications include:

  • Uterus may not be completely emptied (incomplete abortion) and may require repeat suction abortion.
  • Uterine infection, heavy bleeding, cramping.
  • Instruments may damage reproductive organs.

Second trimester abortions (D&E) are a two-day process performed in a clinic or hospital, with the first day focused on softening and opening the cervix and the second day removing the fetus through suction, or if the fetus is too large, forceps are used to remove the fetus by smaller pieces. Possible complications include: 

  • Uterine infection, heavy bleeding, cramping.
  • Instruments may damage reproductive organs

Later stage abortions have an increased risk of medical complications. In addition to the medical complications, many women experience adverse emotional and mental health symptoms after experiencing an abortion. Persons with preexisting mental health conditions are at an increased risk for these types of complications. Read more about post-abortion stress and symptoms here.

When facing an unwanted pregnancy, the most important thing a woman can have is knowledge, because knowledge is empowering. First, it is important that she has a diagnostic ultrasound to determine the viability, location, and gestational age of the pregnancy so that she knows what abortion procedures are even under consideration for her. Secondly, there is more information available about each of type of procedure, and a woman owes it to herself to have all her questions answered, and to see how each procedure and the associated risks apply to her unique medical and mental health situation.

At AbbaCare Pregnancy Resource Center, we offer free and confidential pregnancy confirmation, diagnostic ultrasound, and pregnancy options education in a caring, non-judgmental environment. All of our services are free, so we never profit from any choice you make. Email us here, or call 540.665.9660in Winchester, VA or 304.726.6582 in Martinsburg, WV to schedule your appointment today. Your health and empowerment are worth it! 

(Not in our area? Click here to find a pregnancy resource center near you.)

Source consulted: Virginia Department of Health

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