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What Are Your Abortion Options?

Different Methods of Abortion


Updated August 02, 2016

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Abortion Options

Abortion Options

Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Did you know that abortion is the most common surgical procedure performed for women in the U.S.? Having an abortion is so common that 3 out of 10 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. Abortion is a procedure that ends a pregnancy.  There are different abortion options available depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. These options include both medical and surgical abortion methods.

How Do I Know Which Abortion Option to Choose?

If you are pregnant, you have options. If you are trying to decide if abortion is the right option for you, understanding your abortion options may help you in making your decision. Abortions can be performed throughout pregnancy. But most abortions take place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Which abortion option you choose will most likely be based on how long you have been pregnant.

  • You have three early abortion options that can effectively and safely terminate a pregnancy. These abortion methods can be performed during the first trimester of your pregnancy (1-12 weeks).
  • Surgical abortion options are typically used during your second trimester of pregnancy -- about 10% of abortions take place once you are in your second trimester.

First-trimester abortion options are some of the safest medical procedures -- there is less than a .05% risk for any major complications. In general, second-trimester abortions tend to carry more risks than first-trimester abortions. Don't be mislead by rumors that abortion can cause breast cancer or mental health issues. This is not true! The American Psychological Association says that there is no evidence that having an abortion will cause mental health problems.

Medical Abortion Options:

When seeking an abortion, one option is having a medical abortion. This abortion method is considered to be an early abortion option. During a medical abortion, you are given specific medications to end the pregnancy. Medical abortion is also known as using the abortion pill. It is FDA-approved to be used up to 49 days after the first day of your last menstrual period. This equals being seven weeks pregnant (or five weeks since you conceived).

Medical abortion options can be used as soon as your pregnancy has been confirmed with a pregnancy test. The medication RU486 (brand name Mifeprex) has been widely, safely, and effectively used for many years. You will be given the abortion pill by a doctor. Then, usually 24-48 hours later, you will need to take a second medicine called misoprostol. Sometimes, only Mifeprex is used. When both medications are taken, a medical abortion can effectively terminate a pregnancy 92-98% of the time without the need for any surgery.

Manual Aspiration Abortion Option:

Manual aspiration is an early abortion option. You can have this procedure anytime between 5 to 12 weeks since your last menstrual period. During a manual aspiration abortion, your doctor will use a hand-held syringe to generate suction. This abortion option only takes a few minutes (5 to 15 minutes), has a minimal risk of causing scar tissue, and has a quick recovery. The manual aspiration abortion method also has a very high success rate -- it is 98-99% effective).

Machine Vacuum Aspiration Abortion:

Machine vacuum aspiration is another early abortion method. You can have this abortion option performed from 5 to 12 weeks after your last period. During a machine vacuum aspiration abortion, your doctor will most likely need to dilate (or open) your cervix. Then, a tube, attached to a bottle and a pump will be inserted through your cervix. The pump is turned on and creates a gentle vacuum that will suction the tissue out of the uterus. The machine aspiration abortion method is done quickly, safely, and effectively in your doctor's office or clinic.

Dilation and Curettage Abortion Option:

Dilation and curettage (also known as a D&C) is a surgical abortion option that can be used up until your 16th week of pregnancy. It used to be a popular early abortion option -- but because there are more non-invasive abortion options now available, D&C use has been declining. Dilation means to open up the cervix. Curettage means to remove the contents of the uterus. A dilation and curettage procedure may be necessary if your vacuum aspiration abortion is not successful. During a D&C, a curette (a spoon-shaped instrument) is used to scrape the uterine walls. A dilation and curettage abortion may take place in a hospital using general anesthesia, or in your doctor's office using a local anesthetic.

Dilation and Evacuation Abortion Method:

Dilation and Evacuation (also known as a D&E) is another surgical abortion option. A D&E is usually performed during the second trimester of pregnancy (typically 13 to 24 weeks). Around 24 hours before having a dilation and evacuation abortion, a device called an osmotic (cervical) dilator is usually inserted in the cervix to slowly open up the cervix. This abortion method takes about 30 minutes. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage, and the use of surgical instruments (such as forceps). A D&E abortion will typically take place in a hospital or clinic. This abortion method is nearly 100% effective -- this is because your doctor will examine the removed uterine tissue to make sure the abortion is complete.

Induction Abortion Option:

An induction abortion is a procedure that is performed to end a second or third-trimester pregnancy. This abortion option is usually only used if there is a medical problem in the fetus or the pregnant woman. An induction abortion minimizes risk to your health, and may allow doctors to perform a more accurate autopsy on the fetus (to determine exactly what was wrong). Less than 1% of all abortions in the United States are induction abortions. During an induction abortion, you will be given medications that trigger the start of contractions. Then, you will undergo all the steps of delivery and childbirth.

Intact Dilation and Extraction Abortion:

Intact Dilation and Extraction(also known as D&X and partial birth abortion) is a late-term abortion option. An intact dilation and extraction abortion is performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy. This late-term abortion method results in the extraction of an intact fetus -- so it is the most controversial of all your abortion options. The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act only allows for the use of intact D&X if it is necessary to save a mother's life. This abortion option may or may not be legal in your state -- this is because, in certain states, court cases have struck down this law.


Jensen JT, Mishell Jr. DR. Family planning: contraception, sterilization, and pregnancy termination. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 13.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Medical abortion. Mayoclinic. April 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/medical-abortion/basics/definition/PRC-20012758?p=1.

White CD, American F, Obstetricians, et al. Abortion - surgical: MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002912.htm.

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