Before 7 Weeks
Medical Procedure: Abortion Pill
This drug is only approved for use in women up to the 49th day after their last menstrual period. The procedure usually requires three office visits. At the first visit pills are given to cause the death of the embryo. Two days later if the abortion has not occurred she is given a second drug which causes cramps to expel the embryo. The last visit is to determine if the procedure has been completed. The abortion pill will not work in the case of an ectopic pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the embryo lodges outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. If not diagnosed early, the tube may burst, causing internal bleeding and in some cases, the death of the woman.
6 to 14 Weeks after LMP
Surgical Procedure: Suction Curettage
This is the most common surgical abortion procedure. Because the fetus is larger, the doctor must first stretch open the cervix using metal rods. Opening the cervix may be painful, so local or general anesthesia is typically needed. After the cervix is stretched open, the doctor inserts a hard plastic tube into the uterus, and then connects this tube to a suction machine. The suction pulls the fetus’ body apart and out of the uterus. The doctor may also use a loop-shaped tool called a curette to scrape the fetus and fetal parts out of the uterus. The doctor may refer to the fetus and fetal parts as “products of conception”, or “tissue”.
From 13 to 24 Weeks after LMP
Surgical Procedure: Dilation and Evactuation (D&E)
This surgical abortion is done during the second trimester of pregnancy. At this point in pregnancy, the fetus is too large to be broken up by suction alone and will not pass through the suction tubing. In this procedure the cervix must be opened wider than in a first trimester abortion. This is done by inserting numerous thin rods made of seaweed (called laminaria) a day or two before the abortion. Once the cervix is stretched open, the doctor pulls out the fetal parts with forceps. The fetal skull is often crushed to ease removal. A loop-shaped tool called a curette is also used to scrape out the contents of the uterus, removing any remaining tissue.
From 20 weeks after LMP to full-term
Surgical Procedure: Late Term Abortion
This procedure typically takes place over three days, uses local anesthesia, and are associated with increased risk to life and heath of the mother. On the first day, under ultrasound guidance, the fetal heart is injected with a medication that stops the heart and causes the fetus to die. Over the first two days the cervix is gradually stretched open using laminaria. On the third day, the amniotic sac is burst and drained. The fetus is removed in a similar manner to the D&E procedure.