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What is Abortion?

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An abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy.

Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. In an abortion procedure, the fetus is removed from the mother's womb.

The procedure is performed in a hospital or clinic by a doctor, or by another healthcare provider licensed to perform abortions.


Many U.S. states require women to undergo counseling if they're considering an abortion.

Abortion Procedures

There are two main types of abortion procedures:

Medication: Medicines can be taken that block certain hormones needed for pregnancy. They cause the uterus to expel the fetus on its own.

Surgery: Different surgical techniques can be used to remove the fetus from the womb.

The type of procedure your doctor recommends will depend on a number of factors, including how far along you are in your pregnancy.

Abortion Prevalence

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 700,000 abortions were performed in the United States in 2012.

The CDC estimates that the abortion rate is 210 abortions for every 1,000 live births in the United States, or 13.2 abortions for every 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44.

Unintended pregnancy is the biggest cause for abortion.

About 4 in 10 unintended pregnancies ended in abortion in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that tracks U.S. abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 3 in 10 U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45.

Does an Abortion Hurt?

Many women experience some level of pain during an abortion.

Women undergoing a medical (medication) abortion may have abdominal cramping that feels like strong menstrual cramps. Some women also experience nausea and diarrhea.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), can help with cramps.

surgical abortion also can feel like strong menstrual cramps.

During a surgical abortion, your doctor may give you an anesthetic injection called a paracervical block to numb the cervix (the area around the opening of the uterus).

Call your doctor if you experience any of the following side effects after an abortion:

  • Fever for more than four hours
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (bleeding through more than two sanitary pads per hour)
  • Severe abdominal or back pain
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

Few research studies have examined whether an abortion causes pain to the fetus. Limited evidence suggests that fetuses don't feel pain before the beginning of the third trimester (at 28 weeks, or about six months).

Sex After Abortion

It takes a few weeks for the tissues of the uterus and cervix to heal after an abortion.

While healing, those tissues may be more susceptible to infection. For this reason, doctors typically recommend waiting at least two to three weeks before having vaginal sex again.

Pregnancy After Abortion

Having an abortion usually doesn't affect your ability to get pregnant again.

Researchers aren't sure whether having an abortion increases the risk of complications in future pregnancies.

Some studies have suggested that abortion may increase the risk of preterm delivery in a subsequent pregnancy. Other studies have found no greater risk of giving birth prematurely.

Abortion and Mental Health

Studies have found that in most women, having an abortion does not harm long-term mental health.

Certain factors may increase a woman's risk of experiencing emotional distress following an abortion.

These factors include:

  • Having a mental health disorder prior to the abortion
  • Lacking adequate social support from family or friends
  • Being the victim of violence, abuse, or rape
  • Having a negative attitude toward abortion
  • Ending a pregnancy because of a fetal abnormality
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