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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Abortion
This topic is about ending a pregnancy. If you have had unprotected sex in the last 5 days and don't want to become pregnant, see the topic Emergency Contraception.
Abortion is the early ending of a pregnancy.
Sometimes abortion happens on its own. This is called miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. But women can also choose to end a pregnancy by getting surgery or taking medicine.
If you think you might be pregnant, see a doctor as soon as possible. If you are pregnant, this is an important time to learn as much as you can about your options. The earlier you are in your pregnancy, the more options you are likely to have. Also, the risk of problems will be lower.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and will do a physical exam. You will have lab tests to make sure that you are pregnant. You may also have an ultrasound.
It's not easy to decide to end a pregnancy. You may need some time to think about your choices. Counseling may help you to decide what is best for you. If you're comfortable, you can start by talking with your doctor. Family planning clinics also offer counseling to help you decide what is best for you. You may also want to talk with someone close to you who understands how pregnancy and raising a child would affect your life. Carefully think through your choices, which are to:
It will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are. You may have a choice between a medical abortion (which means taking medicine to end the pregnancy) and a surgical abortion such as vacuum aspiration or dilation and evacuation (D&E).
After 10 weeks, surgical abortion is usually the only option. The risks from having an abortion in the second trimester are higher than in the first trimester.
Abortions done early in the pregnancy can be done by your doctor or gynecologist. Some nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants may also be trained to do some types of abortions. Abortion services are most likely to be offered at university hospitals and family planning clinics.
Some states in the U.S. have legal restrictions on abortion. Talk to your closest Planned Parenthood or other family planning clinic to learn more about restrictions in your state.
In some states, women younger than 18 will need a parent's permission. A minor can get a court order that will allow an abortion without a parent's consent.
Abortions are rarely done after 24 weeks of pregnancy (during the late second trimester and entire third trimester). Many states have restrictions on abortions after 24 weeks.
Abortions done by doctors are very safe. Less than 1 out of 100 women have a serious problem from an abortion.footnote 1
The safest timing for an abortion is usually during the first trimester. This is when a low-risk medicine or vacuum aspiration procedure can be used.
The most widely used methods for abortion do not prevent a woman from becoming pregnant later.
Keep in mind that you can get pregnant in the weeks right after an abortion. This is a good time to start using birth control that works well and fits your lifestyle.
It will probably take you 1 to 3 weeks to heal and feel better after an abortion. You should not have sex during this time. But when you do have sex again, be sure to use a condom for several weeks or for as long as your doctor tells you to. This will help to prevent infection.
Exams and tests are used to diagnose a pregnancy and to check for any health conditions you may have that need special consideration. Regardless of whether you know that you would continue a pregnancy or have an abortion, your evaluation will include a medical history, a physical exam, and some laboratory tests.
A physical exam before an abortion includes:
Laboratory tests before an abortion include:
An ultrasound may be done to check your uterus size and shape and to make sure the pregnancy is in the uterus. A transvaginal ultrasound done in the first trimester is the most accurate method of learning how long you have been pregnant.
Medical abortion is the use of medicines to end a pregnancy. Depending on the medicine used, a medical abortion can be done up to about 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Medicines currently available in the United States for inducing abortion are:
See the What to Think About section of this topic for a comparison of medical abortion and surgical abortion.
A surgical abortion ends a pregnancy by surgically removing the contents of the uterus. Different procedures are used for surgical abortion, depending on how many weeks of pregnancy have passed.
Care before and after a surgical abortion includes a physical exam and lab tests, education about what to expect, self-care instructions, symptoms that mean you should call your doctor, and birth control planning.
A D&E is most commonly used during the second trimester because it has a lower complication risk than induction abortion.
See the What to Think About section of this topic for a comparison between medical abortion and surgical abortion.
Your health professional will give you information about what to expect after an abortion. Normal symptoms that most often occur include:
Follow your doctor's instructions on what to do at home.
Call your doctor now if you have any of these symptoms after an abortion:
Call your doctor for an appointment if you have had any of these symptoms after a recent abortion:
It's possible to become pregnant in the weeks right after an abortion procedure.
Holmquist S, Gilliam M (2008). Induced abortion. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 586–603. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of:
November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineRebecca H. Allen MD, MPH - Obstetrics and GynecologyKirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Rebecca H. Allen MD, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology & Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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