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Difficult Decisions: Surgical Abortion

What to expect if you have a surgical abortion.

By Tina Kells

A surgical abortion is a medical procedure that involves minor out-patient surgery. You are not "put under" for this procedure so the risks often associated with anesthesia are not associated with this procedure. You are sedated and given pain killers during the procedure but you remain awake and conscious during the abortion. You may be offered NO2, nitrous oxide, to help with any discomfort during the procedure. There are two different types of surgical abortion, early pregnancy surgical abortion performed between 6-14 weeks, and late pregnancy surgical abortion performed between 15-19 weeks. Most medical professionals will not perform abortions any later than 19 weeks except in instances where the mother's life is at risk.

Surgical abortions can not be performed any earlier than 6-7 weeks after the first day of your last regular period. This means that if you discover your pregnancy early on you will have to wait to have a surgical abortion. Some people find this waiting very hard. Women and girls who discover their pregnancy earlier than 6-7 weeks and are certain they want to terminate the pregnancy may opt to have a medical abortion. For many women and girls it is mentally easier to terminate a pregnancy early when the pregnancy has not yet become a fetus or embryo and is still a simple cell mass. Medical abortions (using pills) can not be performed any later than 7 weeks after the first day of your last period.

When you opt for a surgical abortion expect at least 3-4 visits to the the doctor or clinic. The first visit will be a long one, 1-2 hours, and will include verification of the pregnancy, an ultra-sound to identify the date of conception (to see if you are far enough along for a surgical abortion), blood testing, a pap smear to rule out STDs like chlamidya and cancers, and counselling to explain the procedure and address your feelings on the issue. Most medical professionals will want you to go away and think about the decision for at least 24 hours to ensure that it is really what you want to do.

If you are having an early pregnancy abortion (6-14 weeks) your second visit will be the procedure. You should eat 2-3 hours before going in for the procedure. You will be given a sedative to ease your nerves and dull the pain. You will be offered NO2 to be self-administered during the procedure as you feel you need it. The doctor will slightly dilate your cervix in order to insert the cannula, a small straw like suction device. You may feel slight discomfort as the cervix is dilated or you may feel nothing at all. The doctor will then begin to suction out the pregnancy. You will not see any of the tissue but you will hear the equipment operating. You will feel some cramping during the suctioning, this cramping may be mild or severe. There is no way to predict how the cramping will be for you but you will be offered NO2 to help manage the pain. The suctioning itself lasts from 5-10 minutes. The cramping may last longer but usually stops with the suctioning. In rare cases cramps may last a few days, although they are no longer severe.

A surgical abortion at 15-19 weeks is similar but much more involved and includes one extra visit prior to the surgery. At this visit the cervix will be opened using 3-4 osmotic dilators and you will be sent away for 24 hours. This is because the cervix must be opened wider in later term abortions and the dilators take 24 hours to work. Once the cervix is dilated the abortion is performed as described above only forceps may be needed to remove extra fetal tissue and the suctioning will last longer, 10-30 minutes. Cramping may be more severe as may your emmotional reaction to the procedure.


This article not a political article or a religious article. It will not make any moral assertions on the issue of abortion. It will not promote or discourage this choice. It is for informational purposes only.

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