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Abortion - What to Think About

Your abortion options are affected by your medical history, how many weeks pregnant you are, and what options are available in your region. Not all medical or surgical choices for an abortion are available in all parts of the United States or around the world. In the U.S., individual states have restrictions on abortion, such as requiring a waiting period, requiring parental consent for young women under a certain age, or limiting options for pregnancies between 13 and 24 weeks (second trimester).

The following table lists some of the differences between the most commonly used medical and surgical abortion procedures.

Comparing medical abortion and surgical abortion3
Medical abortionSurgical abortion

Usually prevents a need for surgical treatment

Is invasive and/or surgical:

  • Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) uses a tube attached to a handheld syringe. It draws tissue out of the uterus.
  • Machine vacuum aspiration uses a tube attached to an electric pump. It draws tissue from within the uterus.
  • Dilation and evacuation (D&E) uses a combination of vacuum aspiration, forceps, and dilation and curettage (D&C).

Can only be used during early pregnancy (up to about 9 weeks)

Can be used from early to mid-pregnancy:

  • Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) can be used as early as 5 weeks, and as late as 12 weeks after the last menstrual period.
  • Machine vacuum aspiration can be used around 5 to 12 weeks after the last menstrual period.
  • D&E is used between 13 and 24 weeks after the last menstrual period. It uses a combination of vacuum aspiration, forceps, and D&C.

Takes 2 or more medical visits over 3 weeks

Usually takes 1 visit

May take several days to complete (most of the abortion process happens gradually, at home)

Is complete in the time it takes for the procedure

Does not require anesthesia or sedative

Does not require general anesthesia (though it can be used). Local anesthesia, with or without a calming sedative, is typical.

Has a high success rate (about 95%)

Has a high success rate (about 99%)

Causes moderate to heavy bleeding for a short time

Causes light bleeding in most cases

Needs medical follow-up to make sure pregnancy has ended and to check the woman's health

Does not always need medical follow-up

Is a multi-step process

Is a single-step process

In extremely rare cases, leads to severe infection and death (about 1 out of 100,000), slightly higher rate than after surgical abortion.

In extremely rare cases, leads to death (less than 1 out of 100,000)

Pain associated with a medical or surgical abortion ranges from mild to severe and depends on each woman's physical and emotional condition.

Some fetal birth defects or medical problems are not commonly diagnosed until the second trimester, when most routine screening tests are done. There are fewer abortion options during the second trimester.

Abortion and breast cancer

Research suggests that the hormonal changes during pregnancy may be protective and reduce the risk of breast cancer. In the past, there has been concern that an abortion might interrupt these protective hormonal changes and possibly increase the risk of breast cancer. But more recent, carefully done studies have led experts to conclude that there is no link between having an abortion and breast cancer.4


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 31, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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