What is an Abortion?
California Women's Health Specialists
Feminist Women's Health Center, WA
Click here for description of early abortion
Click here for description of early abortion
Why is Abortion in a Clinic Setting Better?

Feminists, abortion activists and committed physicians have worked to simplify and demystify the process of ending an unwanted pregnancy.  The procedure they have developed is by far the safest and least traumatic available.  It simplifies cumbersome medical routines and eliminates unnecessary requirements, so that having an abortion is more like going to the dentist than like having one's appendix removed. 

An early termination abortion is one that is performed up to about 14 weeks from the first date of the last menstrual period, or about 12 weeks from the time you became pregnant.  Since your tissues are not cut and general anesthesia is unnecessary, early abortion is not surgery.  Some women know that they are pregnant almost immediately and choose to have an abortion after a missed period but the procedure may be easier if you wait until you have missed a second period, because the os, the opening to the uterus, has softened and dilation of the cervix may be easier. 

In a vacuum aspiration abortion, the contents of the uterus are suctioned out through a flexible plastic tube (a cannula) about the size of a soda straw.  This normally takes about two or three minutes.  During the procedure, you usually experience some cramping, which varies greatly from woman to woman, that comes from dilation of the cervix and from the muscular uterus closing back down to its normal size.

Since the procedure is so short, general anesthetic is not necessary, and often is not offered in clinics.

In women-controlled clinics, the abortion itself is carefully designed to be as nontraumatic as possible.  The smallest possible instruments are used.  Since pain and trauma are the result of rapid, forceful stretching of the cervical canal, using a flexible cannula of the smallest possible size greatly reduces the pain and likelihood of injury.  Another important factor in minimizing discomfort is the gentleness and skill of the abortionist.

The best chance you have for safe, respectful care is in a clinic, particularly one owned and run by feminists.  In a relaxed atmosphere where clinic routines are centered on the woman, where the emphasis is on providing information rather than on judgmental counseling, you can have a less unpleasant experience.  A further advantage of a clinic abortion is that the abortion technicians are usually very experienced and highly skilled, much more so than a gynecologist who does just a few abortions each month.

A New View of a Woman's Body
Federation of Feminist Women's Centers
This illustration show the uterus eight to nine weeks after the beginning of the last normal menstrual period.  The abortionist is holding a stabilizer with the left hand and the flexible plastic cannula with the right.  The uterine contents will be suctioned out through the cannula which is attached to a plastic tubing and a vacuum bottle.
A New View of a Woman's Body
Illustration by Suzann Gage

Complications from an Early Abortion

There are possible complications of an early abortion.  A few women develop uterine infections when bacteria find their way into the uterus during or after the procedure and, occasionally, a small bit of retained tissue can become infected.  Most hospitals require that all women take antibiotics to guard against the small chance of infection, and some clinics advise it, or they may give the woman a prescription for antibiotics if symptoms of infection, such as pain and fever, occur and the woman fills the prescription and takes it.  Only about two percent of women develop infections, and some individual clinics have a much lower rate. If a woman lives far away or if it would be difficult for her to return for a follow-up visit, it may be more important for her to take antibiotics.

Another complication is an incomplete abortion.  With a well-trained, skilled abortionists, this does not happen very often.  When it does, the woman returns for a second, very short suctioning of the uterus to remove the remaining tissue. 

Sometimes, the abortion procedure is not successful, and the woman needs to return to repeat the procedure.

Even with flexible, plastic instruments, a highly-trained and gentle abortionist may perforate the woman's uterus.  Usually this is not a problem, because the uterus contracts after it's emptied and the perforation closes up.  Extremely infrequently, the perforation doesn't completely close up and the woman continues bleeding. Drugs that contract the uterus are routinely given at the time of the abortion. If the bleeding continues past a few days or is too heavy, the woman will receive more drugs.  In rare cases it is necessary to close the wound surgically. 
A New View of a Woman's Body
Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers