An abortion involves using surgery or taking medicines to end a pregnancy. It’s also sometimes referred to as termination of pregnancy, per MedlinePlus.
According to Planned Parenthood, about 1 in every 4 women in the United States will have an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.
The decision to have an abortion is extremely personal. It’s a good idea to seek counseling if you’re considering terminating your pregnancy, so you can learn about all the risks, benefits, and possible alternatives, notes Mayo Clinic.

What Are the Types of Abortion?

There are different ways to perform an abortion. Your doctor might recommend a type based on your personal choices, how far along you are in your pregnancy, or other circumstances, notes UCSF Health.

Medical Abortion

A medical abortion involves taking medications to end your pregnancy.

This type of abortion is typically only an option up until 11 weeks from your last menstrual period, per Planned Parenthood.However, some insurance companies won’t cover a medical abortion after seven weeks of pregnancy, notes UCSF.
A medical abortion is about 95 percent effective at helping a woman completely pass the pregnancy without surgery.
The most common medications given for a medical abortion are mifepristone (Mifeprex, RU-486) and misoprostol (Cytotec). Mifepristone blocks the action of the hormone progesterone, which is important for pregnancy. Misoprostol prompts the uterus to contract and empty.
A doctor or nurse will give you these medicines at a health clinic. You may take them at the facility or at home, depending on your state laws and your provider’s policies.
You will need to see your doctor at least two times: once before taking the medicines and once after you’ve completed the treatment to confirm that the abortion worked.
Medical abortions can take up to 24 hours to complete.
A medical abortion is different than emergency contraception, which is known as the “morning after pill.” Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy, while a medical abortion is used to terminate a pregnancy.

Surgical Abortion

A surgical abortion, or an “in-clinic abortion,” is a procedure that’s done to remove the pregnancy tissue from a woman’s womb (uterus), per MedlinePlus.
According to Planned Parenthood, the two types of surgical abortions are:
  • Suction Abortion (Vacuum Aspiration) With this technique, gentle suction is used to empty the uterus. A suction abortion can be performed until about 14 to 16 weeks after your last period. This is the most common type of in-clinic abortion.
  • Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) Abortion A D&E involves using suction and surgical instruments to empty a woman’s uterus. Doctors may recommend this type of procedure if it’s been 16 weeks or longer since your last period.
Most in-clinic abortion procedures take about 5 to 10 minutes.
Surgical abortions are usually very successful. According to Planned Parenthood, they work more than 99 out of every 100 times.

Late-Term Abortion

A late-term abortion is a nonmedical term that refers to abortions occurring at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Late-term abortions are uncommon, accounting for only about 1 percent of abortions in the United States.
Sometimes, an intact dilation and evacuation (D&E), otherwise called dilation and extraction (D&X), is performed if the abortion occurs late in pregnancy. It involves removing the fetus intact from a woman’s body. This rarely used method has been referred to as “partial-birth abortion,” but this is another nonmedical term and many medical professionals oppose this language.
The U.S. Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 blocks the use of intact dilation and evacuation for most cases of pregnancy termination in the United States, except when a mother’s life is at risk.

How to Prepare for an Abortion

Before a medical or surgical abortion, your doctor may perform a urine test, a physical exam, or a blood test. Additionally, you may need to have an ultrasound to confirm how far along you are in your pregnancy and to rule out ectopic pregnancy.

Your healthcare provider will explain how the medicines or procedure will work, the side effects, and the risks.
If you’re having a surgical abortion, you might need the following before your procedure, according to UCSF Health:
  • Oral pain medicines, such as Vicodin, Valium, and ibuprofen
  • Medicines to soften your cervix, such as misoprostol
  • Dilating sticks that are placed in your cervix, such as laminaria or Dilapan
  • Antibiotics to help prevent infections
  • Sedation drugs
The medicines you require and when you receive them will depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy and the type of abortion you’re having, notes UCSF Health.
If you take Vicodin, Valium, or other sedation medicines, you’ll need to arrange for someone to take you home from the clinic.

Finding a Doctor and Clinic

You should know that doctors aren’t required to perform elective abortions, and different states have certain legal requirements, waiting periods, or age restrictions when it comes to abortions. These laws might make it challenging to find a provider or clinic.

Planned Parenthood offers resources for finding clinics and health centers in your area.

Costs and Insurance Coverage

Planning for the cost of an abortion can be challenging for some women. While prices vary, an abortion in the first trimester can run up to $1,500, notes Planned Parenthood.A second trimester abortion usually costs more.
Some insurance plans cover abortions, but others don’t. Check your policy before scheduling your appointment. If your procedure is not covered, you might be able to work out a self-payment option with the clinic.
Community health clinics are often a good option for low-cost care. The centers are funded by the federal government and are usually located in areas with fewer doctors. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), these federally qualified health centers in underserved areas must provide care on a sliding scale based on your ability to pay.
Additionally, your local Planned Parenthood health center may be able to provide you with other options or resources for financial assistance.

How Is an Abortion Performed?

The process will depend on the type of abortion you have.

An abortion feels different for everyone. Some women report intense pain, while others describe it as slight discomfort. Your doctors and nurses will try to make your abortion as comfortable as possible, notes Planned Parenthood.

Medical Abortion

For a medical abortion, your doctor will give you one tablet of mifepristone that you usually take in the clinic, according to Mayo Clinic.
Then, hours or days later, you’ll be instructed to take misoprostol, usually at home.Your doctor may also give you antibiotics to prevent an infection.
About a week later, you’ll meet with your provider to make sure the abortion is complete.

Suction Abortion

If you’re having a suction abortion, a healthcare professional will first examine your uterus and use a speculum to see inside your vagina. Then, they will:
  • Inject numbing medication into your cervix
  • Stretch the opening of your cervix with dilating rods
  • Insert a thin tube into your uterus
  • Use a small suction device or machine to remove the pregnancy tissue out of your uterus
Additionally, the doctor may use a tool to remove any tissue that’s still left in your uterus or to confirm that your uterus is completely empty.

After the suction abortion is over, you’ll stay in a recovery area for about an hour or until you feel well enough to go home.

While the procedure itself only takes about 10 minutes, your appointment will be longer due to prep and recovery time.

D&E Abortion

You’ll probably be sedated for a D&E procedure.

First, your doctor will prepare your cervix with medicines that help open it. Dilator sticks (laminaria) are often given a few hours or a day before a D&E.

To begin the procedure, a healthcare provider will look at your uterus and examine inside your vagina with a speculum. Then, they will:
  • Inject a numbing medication into your cervix
  • Stretch the opening of your cervix with dilating rods
  • Insert a thin tube into your uterus
  • Use surgical instruments along with a suction device to remove the pregnancy tissue from your uterus
The procedure typically takes about 10 to 20 minutes, but your appointment will be much longer due to the prep and recovery time.
You’ll wait in a recovery room for up to an hour or until you feel well enough to leave.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From an Abortion?

Most people heal quickly after an abortion, but your recovery might depend on the type of abortion you had and how far along you are in your pregnancy.

Recovery After Medical Abortion

If you have a medical abortion, you should plan to rest on the day you take your second medicine. You might feel tired for a couple of days after this dose, notes Planned Parenthood.
You can usually resume most normal tasks, such as going to work or driving, the next day. However, don’t perform any strenuous activities, such as heavy exercise, for several days.
You might bleed or spot sporadically for several weeks after your medical abortion.
Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Let them know if you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever for more than 24 hours after taking misoprostol.
You can have sex as soon as you feel ready (but again, it's important to use contraception if you want to avoid pregnancy).
Your normal periods should resume four to eight weeks after the abortion, but this will depend on your birth control method.

Recovery After Surgical Abortion

The day after a surgical abortion, you can usually resume regular activities, such as driving and working, if you feel up to it. You can also have sex as soon as you feel well enough, though be sure to use reliable contraception if you wish to prevent pregnancy, notes Planned Parenthood.
You’ll probably experience some cramping or bleeding. Pain medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can help with the discomfort.

You might bleed or spot for several weeks, but some people don’t bleed at all. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you use pads, so you can keep track of how much you bleed.

You should get a normal period about four to eight weeks after your procedure, but this might vary if you use certain birth control methods.
Be sure to follow all your doctor’s instructions after your procedure. Call your provider right away if you:
  • Soak through two pads per hour for two hours
  • Have pain or cramps that don’t get better with medicine
  • Have a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher

Abortion Resources

If you’re considering an abortion, you’re not alone. Many resources are available to help you through the process. Here are some of Everyday Health’s favorites:

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that delivers vital reproductive healthcare, sex education, and information to millions of people around the world. On their site, you can search for clinics in your area and even chat with a health educator who can answer any questions or concerns you have about your pregnancy options.

National Abortion Federation (NAF)

The mission of the NAF is to unite, represent, serve, and support abortion providers in delivering patient-centered, evidence-based care. Their toll-free hotline provides callers with abortion referrals and financial assistance services. You can also locate a provider in your area right on their web site.

National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF)

The NNAF aims to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access. They help connect women with organizations that can assist with the costs of having an abortion.

Abortion Finder features more than 750 health centers and offers the most comprehensive directory of trusted and verified abortion service providers in the United States. You can also find information about how the laws in your state may affect your ability to get an abortion.

Next Steps and Recommendations

Most women can start on birth control immediately after having an abortion.

Some options include:

  • Pills
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Shots
  • Implants
In some cases, doctors can insert an IUD in your uterus at the same time you have an abortion.

If you’re interested in a birth control method, your doctor or nurse can walk you through your options.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Abortion. MedlinePlus. April 22, 2021.
  • What Facts About Abortion Do I Need to Know? Planned Parenthood.
  • Medical Abortion. Mayo Clinic. May 14, 2020.
  • Biggs MA, Gould H, Foster DG. Understanding Why Women Seek Abortions in the US. BMC Women’s Health. July 5, 2013.
  • Abortions Later in Pregnancy. Kaiser Family Foundation. December 5, 2019.
  • Texas Senate Bill 8. LegiScan.
  • Tavernise S, Benner K. Federal Judge Pauses Strict Texas Law Banning Mot Abortions. The New York Times. October 22, 2021.
  • Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Supreme Court of the United States.
  • Medical Versus Surgical Abortion. UCSF Health.
  • Abortion — Surgical. MedlinePlus. October 8. 2021.
  • In-Clinic Abortion. Planned Parenthood.
  • The Abortion Pill. Planned Parenthood.
  • Medical Abortion. UCSF Health.
  • S.3 — Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
  • How Safe Is an In-Clinic Abortion? Planned Parenthood.
  • Surgical Abortion (Second Trimester). UCSF Health.
  • Surgical Abortion (First Trimester). UCSF Health.
  • How Do I Get an In-Clinic Abortion? Planned Parenthood.
  • How Much Does an Abortion Cost? Planned Parenthood.
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers. Health Resources and Services Administration. May 2018.
  • Find a Health Center. Planned Parenthood.
  • What Happens During an In-Clinic Abortion? Planned Parenthood.
  • What Can I Expect After Having an In-Clinic Abortion? Planned Parenthood.
  • What Can I Expect After I Take the Abortion Pill? Planned Parenthood.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • F. W. Ling (2015). "Overview of pregnancy termination." UpToDate.
  • K. Pazol, A. A. Creanga, and D. J. Jamieson (2015). "Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2012." MMWR Surveillance Summary.
  • Induced Abortions in the United States (2016); Guttmacher Institute.


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