Abortion Safety
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Risks
Alternatives
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Risks of Abortion

Physical Risks
Medical Abortion

Early in a pregnancy, certain drugs can be taken to cause an abortion. No surgery is required, but multiple visits to a health care provider are needed. Medical abortion may involve mifepristone, methotrexate, misoprostol pills, and/or vaginal misoprostol.

Risks and side effects of medical abortion include:
Further Reading on Abortion Risks

Mayo Clinic
American College of Ob/Gyns
WebMD
Medscape
  • Incomplete abortion
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to the uterus
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
In the case of an incomplete abortion, the patient is likely to need a surgical abortion to remove remaining parts of the embryo’s body and prevent a serious infection.

If the patient decides to continue the pregnancy after beginning to take medication for an abortion, the baby may be at risk of birth defects.

Contact your health provider if, after a medication abortion, you experience severe abdominal or back pain, bleeding that is heavier than a normal period, foul-smelling discharge, and/or a fever above 100.4°F.

Surgical Abortion

Surgical abortions are done in different ways depending on the age of the fetus. The two most common methods are vacuum aspiration in the first trimester, and dilation & evacuation (D&E) in the second trimester.

Vacuum aspiration is done with local anesthesia or no anesthesia. The abortion provider rinses the vagina with an antiseptic solution, dilates the cervix, and passes a cannula into the uterus. The other end of the cannula is connected to a pump that applies suction. (In very early abortions, suction may be applied using a syringe.) The suction breaks up the embryo and removes the body parts from the uterus. The provider may insert a curette (a metal loop) to clean the walls of the uterus of any remaining tissue.

Risks and side effects of vacuum aspiration include:
  • Incomplete abortion – In some cases the embryo is not removed completely, which may cause bleeding and/or an infection.
  • Infection – An infection may occur if bacteria from the vagina or the cervix get into the uterus after an abortion.
  • Damage to the uterus – The wall of the uterus may be perforated, or the cervix may be torn. Other organs, such as the bowel or bladder, may be damaged in the process. If this happens, further surgery will be needed.
  • Death – There is a very low risk of maternal death from this type of abortion.
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding
Contact your health care provider if you experience severe abdominal or back pain, bleeding that is heavier than a normal period, a foul-smelling discharge, and/or a fever above 100.4°F.

Dilation & evacuation (D&E) is a two-day procedure, common in the second trimester. First, the abortion provider performs an ultrasound to determine the size of the uterus and number of weeks of pregnancy. Because the fetus is larger, the cervix needs to be more dilated than in a first-trimester. A cervical dilator is inserted in the cervix 24 hours before the abortion. The following day, the patient is typically given pain medicine and a sedative. The abortion provider uses forceps or other grasping instruments to remove the fetus in pieces. A vacuum is used to remove fluid and floating tissue. Finally, the provider uses a metal loop, called curette, to scrape the walls of the uterus.

Abortion risks increase as the age of the fetus increases. Risks and side effects of D&E include:
  • Incomplete abortion – In some cases the embryo is not removed completely, which may cause bleeding and/or an infection. Incomplete abortion may also cause blood clots.
  • Infection – An infection may occur if bacteria from the vagina or the cervix get into the uterus after an abortion.
  • Damage to the uterus – The wall of the uterus may be perforated, or the cervix may be torn. Other organs, such as the bowel or bladder, may be damaged in the process. If this happens, further surgery will be needed.
  • Death – There is a very low risk of maternal death from this type of abortion.
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting.
  • Cramps
Contact your health provider if you experience headaches, muscle aches, dizziness, severe abdominal pain, bleeding that is heavier than a normal period, a fever above 100.4°F, vomiting lasting more than four hours, sudden abdominal swelling or rapid heart rate, foul-smelling discharge, and/or pain, swelling, or redness in genital area.

Psychological/Emotional Risks

Abortion may also expose you to psychological risks. A spirited debate exists as to whether or not these psychological reactions deserve classification as a syndrome. Regardless of the label used, it is true that some women experience guilt, depression, loss, and other issues after an abortion.

Certain factors increase your risk of abortion-related psychological problems. These include:
    If you are experiencing post-abortion stress, please seek help. Do not self-medicate with alcohol or illicit drugs. If you are considering suicide, call 911 or 1-800-SUICIDE right away!
  • Young age
  • Ambivalence about the abortion decision
  • Pressure from others to abort
  • Prior mental illness
  • Abortion in later stages of pregnancy
  • Lack of social support
  • One or more prior abortions
Alternatives to Abortion

Abortion is not the only option in a crisis pregnancy. Here are some other possibilities.
  • Joint parenting: If the father of your child is supportive, or if another supportive partner has come into your life, you may wish to raise the child together. Joint parenting can take place with or without marriage, but married households tend to be more stable.
  • Single parenting: Over the past few decades, single parenting has become more common and more socially acceptable. While single parenthood is not always easy, a strong network of family and friends can help make it work.
  • Closed adoption: In a closed adoption, the baby is placed for adoption with another family and cannot contact you until he or she becomes an adult.
  • Open adoption: In an open adoption, you and your baby remain in contact after the adoption placement through regularly scheduled visits.
  • Semi-open adoption: In a semi-open adoption, there is less contact than in a fully open adoption. For instance, the adoptive family may agree to send you photos of the child.
  • Intra-family adoption: The child is adopted by a member of your family, such as a sibling or cousin, allowing you to watch the child grow up.
Only you can know which of these alternatives is best for your circumstances. It may be helpful to discuss your options with a professional or peer counselor.

Resources

Pregnancy Resource Centers
Across the country, thousands of non-profit abortion alternatives agencies provide free help to pregnant women and mothers of infants. The services provided vary by location. Common services include pregnancy testing, confidential counseling, ultrasound, prenatal care and/or medical referrals, post-abortion support groups, parenting classes, adoption referrals, baby supplies, maternity clothing, education/career assistance, and housing.

The following organizations can help you locate a pregnancy resource center near you.

Birthright International
    Birthright.org
    1-800-550-4900
    Religious affiliation: N/A (non-evangelization policy)
    Centers in northern United States and Canada
Care Net
    Care-net.org
    Religious affiliation: Christian
    Centers throughout the United States
Heartbeat International
    OptionLine.org
    1-800-712-4357
    Religious affiliation: Christian
    Centers throughout the United States
In Shifra’s Arms Nurturing Network Not all pregnancy resource centers are affiliated with a national umbrella organization. Look up "abortion alternatives" in your local phone book for more centers.

Online Communities
StandUpGirl.com: A community for young people who have experienced or are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Get caring advice from women who've been there.
AfterAbortion.com: A community for women who are working through negative psychological or emotional reactions to abortion.