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Abortion: Overview

Abortion: Overview

December 04, 2023 15:09

February 28, 2024 8:47

Reading time: 8 minutes


Abortion is a medical procedure that involves terminating a pregnancy. There are different methods of abortion available, depending on factors such as gestational age, medical history, and personal preference. In this article, we will provide an overview of the various methods of abortion, their procedures, risks, and considerations.

Definition of Abortion

Abortion refers to the intentional termination of a pregnancy before the fetus can survive outside the womb. It can occur spontaneously (known as a miscarriage) or be induced.

Classification of Abortion

1. Spontaneous Abortion or Miscarriage:

  • Threatened miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding in the first half of pregnancy without the expulsion of pregnancy tissue.
  • Inevitable miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding with an open cervix and partial or complete expulsion of pregnancy tissue.
  • Incomplete miscarriage: Partial expulsion of pregnancy tissue with retained products of conception in the uterus.
  • Complete miscarriage: Complete expulsion of all pregnancy tissue without surgical intervention.
  • Missed miscarriage: Fetal demise without any symptoms or signs of miscarriage. The pregnancy may continue to be viable for weeks or even months.
  • Recurrent miscarriage: Three or more consecutive pregnancy losses before 20 weeks of gestation.

2. Induced Abortion:

  • Medical abortion: The use of medications, such as Mifepristone and Misoprostol, to terminate a pregnancy in the early gestational age (typically up to 11 weeks). To calculate your gestational age.
  • Surgical Abortion:
    • a. Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA): A procedure where a healthcare provider uses a handheld syringe to remove pregnancy tissue during the first trimester (up to 12 weeks).
    • b. Electric vacuum aspiration (EVA): Similar to MVA, it uses an electric pump and can be used from the early first trimester up to the second trimester (12-16 weeks).
    • c. Dilation and Curettage (D&C): Dilating the cervix and removing pregnancy tissue using a sharp instrument or suction. It is typically performed in the first or early second trimester (up to 16 weeks).
    • d. Dilation and Evacuation (D&E): Similar to D&C but used at a later gestational age (typically 13-24 weeks).
    • e. Dilation and Extraction (D&X): This is a rare and controversial surgical procedure used in certain late-term abortions.
    • f. Late-term abortion: Typically refers to the elective termination of a pregnancy after 24 weeks of gestation. It is highly regulated and usually only done for medical reasons or severe fetal abnormalities.
  • Induced labor: Induced labor, for pregnancy termination, is a medical procedure performed to end a pregnancy at a later gestational age.

Types of Abortion

1. Medical Abortion (Abortion Pill)

One standard method is medication abortion, which involves taking two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone is taken at a healthcare provider’s office, after which misoprostol is taken at home, typically within two days. The drugs work together to induce contractions and expel the pregnancy. Medication abortion is generally considered safe and effective within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

2. Aspiration Abortion (Suction Abortion)

Aspiration abortion, also known as suction abortion, is a procedure that involves using gentle suction to remove a pregnancy from the uterus. It is typically performed within the first 6 to 16 weeks of pregnancy. This method is commonly used as it can be done in a healthcare provider’s office or clinic and is mainly considered safe.

3. Dilation and Curettage (D&C)

Dilation and Curettage (D&C) is a surgical method of abortion that involves dilating the cervix and removing the pregnancy using suction and a small surgical instrument known as a curette. This method is usually performed earlier in pregnancy, between 6 and 12 weeks. D&C is considered safe, but like any surgical procedure, it carries a minor risk of complications.

4. Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)

Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is a surgical procedure performed after the first trimester, typically between 13 and 24 weeks. It involves dilating the cervix and removing the pregnancy using suction and instruments like forceps. D&E is a safe and commonly used method for later-term abortions.

5. Dilation and Extraction (D&X)

Dilation and Extraction (D&X), also known as partial-birth abortion, or intact dilation and extraction (IDX), —  is a rare and controversial surgical procedure used in certain late-term abortions. This procedure is typically performed in the second or third trimester of pregnancy when a fetus has severe abnormalities or when there are risks to the mother’s health.

Legal Status of Abortion

The legal status of abortion is a complex and highly debated issue across the world. It involves the regulation and restrictions placed on the termination of pregnancies. In this article, we will delve into the legal landscape surrounding abortion, examining its history, current status in different countries, and the various factors that influence the laws in place.

Historical Context:

Abortion has been practiced for centuries, often in clandestine and unsafe conditions. Until relatively recently, it was generally considered a criminal act. However, attitudes towards abortion have evolved due to advances in medical science, changing societal norms, and the recognition of women’s rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive choices.

Current Status:

United States:
In the United States, the legal status of abortion is shaped by the landmark Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade in 1973. The court ruled that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the decision to terminate a pregnancy must be left to the woman and her doctor based on her right to privacy. However, the court also recognized states’ interests in protecting the potential life of a fetus during the second and third trimesters, leading to varying regulations across different states.

European countries have a wide range of laws regarding abortion. Some countries, such as France, Germany, and Sweden, have relatively permissive laws allowing abortion on request during the early stages of pregnancy. Others, such as Ireland, Poland, and Malta, have had more restrictive laws, although Ireland did legalize abortion in 2018. The state of legal access to abortion varies considerably across the continent, reflecting differing cultural, political, and religious beliefs.

Latin America:
In Latin America, the legal status of abortion is predominantly restrictive. El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic have outright bans on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk. Some countries, such as Argentina, have recently made significant strides in the decriminalization of abortion, allowing it under certain circumstances. Overall, Latin America remains a region with limited access to safe and legal abortion services.

Asia and Africa:
In Asia, the laws surrounding abortion vary widely. Countries like India and Nepal have relatively liberal laws allowing abortion on broad grounds. Meanwhile, others, such as Bangladesh and Malaysia, have more restrictive laws. In Africa, the legal status of abortion also varies considerably by country. South Africa has one of the most liberal abortion laws on the continent, allowing access to safe and legal abortion services. However, many African countries maintain highly restrictive laws, often leading to unsafe abortions and high rates of maternal mortality.

Factors Influencing Legal Status:

  • Public Opinion: Laws regarding abortion are typically influenced by prevailing public opinion on reproductive rights, religious beliefs, and societal norms.
  • Medical Advancements: Advances in medical technology and understanding of pregnancy have influenced the legal status of abortion. Improved methods of contraception and safer abortion procedures have contributed to more liberal laws in some countries.
  • Healthcare Infrastructure: Access to safe and legal abortion services frequently depends on the availability of healthcare facilities and trained providers. In countries with limited resources and infrastructure, access to abortion may be further restricted.
  • Human Rights: The recognition of women’s rights, including the right to make decisions regarding their bodies, has played a significant role in shaping laws surrounding abortion.

Risks and Considerations:

Like any medical procedure, abortion carries potential risks and considerations. It is essential to be aware of these before deciding:

  1. Physical Risks: While abortion is generally considered safe, like any medical procedure, it carries potential risks. These risks may include infection, excessive bleeding, injury to the uterus or cervix, and anesthesia complications. It is crucial to have access to a qualified healthcare professional and a safe medical facility.
  2. Emotional and Psychological Impact: The decision to have an abortion can sometimes lead to emotional and psychological distress. It is natural for individuals to experience various emotions, including relief, guilt, sadness, or regret. It is essential to seek emotional support from loved ones or mental health professionals if needed.
  3. Counseling and Support: Before deciding on an abortion, consider seeking counseling or guidance from healthcare professionals who specialize in reproductive health. They can provide information, answer questions, and offer support throughout the decision-making process.
  4. Alternatives: It is essential to be aware of alternatives to abortion, such as adoption or parenting. Exploring these options can offer individuals more choices and help them make informed decisions based on their circumstances.

Seeking Professional Help:

It’s important to note that this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you’re considering an abortion, it is crucial to seek guidance from qualified healthcare professionals who can provide accurate information and support tailored to your specific situation.

Ultimately, the decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and can be influenced by numerous factors, including medical, psychological, and ethical considerations. It is crucial to respect individual choices and ensure that reproductive healthcare remains accessible, safe, and compassionate for all individuals.


Dr. Kopp Kallner. M.D. in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Columbia University Medical School.

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